Lucas, Lady Lions hold on to defeat Minnesota

UNIVERSITY PARK – The Penn State women’s basketball team saw its lead cut to one point five times in the final five minutes Thursday.

The Lady Lions needed someone to step up if they were going to hold off upstart Minnesota. But instead of one player, they got contributions from several down the stretch.

Maggie Lucas scored 26 points, including four free throws in the final minute, and No. 8 Penn State beat Minnesota, 64-59, at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Alex Bentley added 12 points and Nikki Greene had 13 rebounds for the Lady Lions (16-2, 6-0 Big Ten), who won their 10th straight game.

Rachel Banham had 19 points for Minnesota (13-7, 2-4).

Lucas, Bentley and Greene all had baskets over the final five minutes, and Dara Taylor drew a key offensive foul against Banham to help Penn State avoid the upset against Minnesota, which started the night in eighth place in the Big Ten.

“We have a lot weapons,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “They have a lot of confidence in themselves individually and in their teammates. They don’t feel the burden of having to make plays individually.”

“As a team, we have a lot of offensive power,” Bentley added. “Anyone can score on our team. We just take the open looks and execute the offense.”

Minnesota led 45-41 after Sari Noga’s lay-up with 10:02 left. The Golden Gophers then went over six minutes before their next field goal, and the Lady Lions regained the lead.

“We really rely on our defense,” Lucas said. “We thought if we could get a few stops and execute on offense that we’d be in good shape.”

Bentley’s jump shot with 5:28 left capped a run of seven straight points and gave Penn State its biggest lead at 52-47. After Minnesota made four free throws over the next minute, another basket from Bentley gave Penn State a three-point lead with four minutes remaining.

A lay-up from Lucas and a put-back from Greene helped Penn State maintain its three-point lead. But after Kionna Kellogg hit two free throws to make it 58-57, Minnesota had two chances to take the lead. Banham turned the ball over and later drew an offensive foul after knocking Taylor to the floor.

Following that foul, Bentley’s jumper made it 60-57 with 58 seconds left. After Micaella Riche cut the lead to one point one final time, Lucas made 4-of-4 free throws over the final 24 seconds to seal the victory.

“We had a great effort,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “For the most part, we locked into our game plan. It just came down to the last minute, a play here and play there at the end.”

The close victory was a change of pace for the Lady Lions, who had won their previous four games by double digits.

“It’s a good experience for us to play that kind of game,” Lucas said. “Obviously, we’d like to win by a lot more than that. Minnesota brought their best tonight and they played well.”

The Lady Lions, who led 31-29 at halftime, saw their offense struggle before the deciding stretch. Penn State shot 35.3 percent from the field and was an identical 12-for-34 in each half.

“We never got into a good flow,” Washington said. “We got good shots. We just didn’t make them. Moving forward, we have to get a better rhythm offensively.”

Game notes: Greene surpassed 1,000 points for her career. She became the 35th player in the program’s history to reach that mark. Penn State is off to its best start since the 1999-2000 season, when it also began 16-2. Penn State has won 13 consecutive Big Ten regular-season games.

MINNESOTA (13-7): Banham 6-17 6-6 19, Mullaney 2-5 1-1 5, Kellogg 3-7 2-4 8, Riche 5-7 2-2 12, Noga 1-3 2-2 4, Cotton 3-5 1-2 7, Hirt 1-3 0-0 2, Bailey 0-0 0-0 0, Loberg 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 22-49 14-18 59.

PENN ST. (16-2): Taylor 1-3 1-2 4, Bentley 6-16 0-0 12, Nickson 1-7 1-2 3, Lucas 9-18 7-7 26, Greene 3-11 3-4 9, Agee 0-1 0-0 0, East 0-0 0-0 0, Edwards 2-6 2-4 6, Studevent 2-3 0-0 4, Waldner 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-68 14-19 64.

Halftime-Penn St. 31-29. 3-Point Goals-Minnesota 1-8 (Banham 1-4, Kellogg 0-1, Mullaney 0-1, Noga 0-2), Penn St. 2-7 (Taylor 1-1, Lucas 1-5, Bentley 0-1). Fouled Out-Cotton. Rebounds-Minnesota 39 (Kellogg, Loberg 6), Penn St. 37 (Greene 13). Assists-Minnesota 9 (Mullaney 4), Penn St. 13 (Lucas, Taylor 4). Total Fouls-Minnesota 20, Penn St. 16. A-4,089.