UNIVERSITY PARK The shots weren't falling for the Penn State women's basketball team. The Lady Lions were being out-rebounded by a wide margin and they trailed visiting Northwestern for most of the game.
Still, they found a way to win their Big Ten Conference opener Thursday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Coach Coquese Washington will take it.
"I don't feel fortunate," she said following Penn State's 73-69 victory. "I feel like the Big Ten Conference is not easy. The Big Ten Conference is tough and competitive. We grinded out a win against a good team."
Maggie Lucas scored 24 points to lead No. 9 Penn State (11-2, 1-0), which rallied from a six-point deficit in the final five minutes to win its 13 consecutive home game. Mia Nickson added 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Lady Lions, who have won five in a row overall.
Karly Roser had 16 points for Northwestern (8-6, 0-1), which has lost six of eight. Kendall Hackney added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Penn State, which was playing for the first time in 11 days, missed its first seven shots and struggled to find its shooting touch throughout the night. The Lady Lions shot 27.3 percent from the field in the first half and 29.9 percent for the game. In all, they missed 47 shots.
"It was just one of those nights," said Lucas, who was 5-of-16 but made 5 of 7 3-pointers. "You're going to have off-shooting nights individually and as a team."
By comparison, Northwestern couldn't miss. The Wildcats, who had won just one time in 17 previous games at Penn State , were over 50 percent in the first half and also used a 26-15 rebounding advantage to help build a 38-32 halftime lead.
Penn State, which didn't take its first lead until the 11:43 mark of the second half, trailed 60-54 after Northwestern's Alex Cohen banked-in a 3-pointer with 4:47 remaining.
"When you bank in a 3, you feel like it's your night," Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. "But you have to play 40 minutes. It's something we preach every day."
The Lady Lions still trailed by five points after Lauren Douglas made one of two free throws with 3:25 left. Lucas then hit one of two free throws to make it a four-point game. After a miss by Roser, Lucas hit her final 3-pointer of the night off a fast-break pass from Alex Bentley to make it 63-62.
"It was just a good look in transition," Lucas said. "That was really started by Alex getting the break going."
The key sequence came around a minute later. A jumper from Dara Taylor cut Northwestern's lead to 65-64. Following a miss from Douglas, a driving lay-up from Taylor put Penn State up by one point with 1:26 left. The Lady Lions led the rest of the way.
"That was it right there," McKeown said. "That would have put us up [by three points]. That was a huge play. We did everything right but win the game."
It was a rare offensive outburst from Taylor, who entered Thursday night's game averaging 6.8 points. The point guard finished with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting.
"She's got to step up and take some shots," Washington said about Taylor. "She's got to be willing to take them. She likes to pass and get other people involved. We tell her that (she has) to get involved. We she decides to get involved, it makes a difference."
Penn State, which travels to Michigan State on Sunday, ended the game on a 19-9 run.
"We practice late-game situations," Lucas said. "We're pretty confident, at the end, that we can get stops. We just have to communicate and make it happen."
NORTHWESTERN (8-6): Hackney 4-7 2-2 12, Douglas 3-12 1-2 7, Lyon 3-16 1-2 7, Diamant 3-6 2-2 9, Roser 5-7 6-10 16, Cohen 3-3 2-2 9, Kedem 0-0 0-0 0, Brookshire 0-0 0-0 0, Popovec 4-5 1-1 9. Totals 25-56 15-21 69.
PENN ST. (11-2): Taylor 4-12 1-3 9, Bentley 1-11 6-6 9, Nickson 3-8 8-10 14, Lucas 5-16 9-12 24, Greene 2-2 0-0 4, Agee 2-4 0-0 4, East 0-1 3-6 3, Edwards 3-11 0-0 6, Studevent 0-1 0-0 0, Waldner 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-67 27-37 73.
Halftime-Northwestern 38-32. 3-Point Goals-Northwestern 4-15 (Hackney 2-4, Cohen 1-1, Diamant 1-2, Lyon 0-4, Douglas 0-4), Penn St. 6-15 (Lucas 5-7, Bentley 1-3, Studevent 0-1, Edwards 0-1, Taylor 0-3). Fouled Out-Diamant, Greene, Hackney. Rebounds-Northwestern 50 (Hackney 11), Penn St. 36 (Nickson 13). Assists-Northwestern 11 (Hackney, Lyon, Roser 3), Penn St. 9 (Lucas 4). Total Fouls-Northwestern 25, Penn St. 21. A-3,863.