PSU clinches share of Big Ten

UNIVERSITY PARK – The Penn State women’s basketball team rewarded the fourth largest home crowd in the team’s history with a victory worth celebrating.

Maggie Lucas scored 15 of her team-high 21 points in the first half, and the No. 7 Lady Lions held off a second-half rally to beat Michigan, 68-57, on Sunday and clinch at least a share of the Big Ten championship.

Alex Bentley, Mia Nickson and Ariel Edwards each added 11 points for Penn State (23-3, 13-1 Big Ten), which saw a 19-point lead cut to four midway through the second half.

Kate Thompson scored 25 points to lead Michigan (19-8, 8-6 Big Ten).

The Big Ten title is the second straight for Penn State and the seventh in the program’s history. The Lady Lions can clinch the outright championship with a win in their final two games or a loss by second-place Nebraska. Penn State finishes the regular season with games Thursday at Minnesota and next Sunday at Nebraska.

The clinching victory came before a crowd of 14,173. Penn State’s home finale was also its seventh annual “Pink Zone” game, which helped to raise money for breast cancer research. At halftime, 621 breast cancer survivors were recognized.

“I always tell people that the Pink Zone is my favorite game of the year,” Bentley said. “The crowd and the atmosphere are amazing. Obviously, tonight was even more special with senior night and clinching the Big Ten.”

Seniors Nikki Greene, Marisa Wolfe, Gizelle Studevent, Bentley and Nickson were honored before their final home game. All five started for the Lady Lions, including Wolfe, who played less than a minute after missing the entire season with concussion-like symptoms.

“She had earned and deserved the opportunity to wear her uniform one last time,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “It was senior night. She is as much of a key as the rest of them, even though she hasn’t played this year.”

With the victory, Penn State finished 14-0 at home for its fourth undefeated season at the Bryce Jordan Center and first in eight years. The Lady Lions have won 20 straight games overall at home.

Penn State, which won its sixth straight, pulled away early behind an 18-0 run.

A sluggish start gave the Lady Lions only a 5-4 lead five minutes in. Penn State rebounded over the six minutes by connecting on six of seven shots from the field, including two 3-pointers, and all four from the free-throw line.

Lucas scored 10 points during this stretch. Her 3-pointer made it 8-4 and another three at the 12:14 mark pushed Penn State’s lead to 11 points. Dara Taylor’s lay-up finished the run and gave the Lady Lions a 23-4 lead with 9:26 left.

“It was big, getting off to a good start,” Washington said. “It gave our team a lot of confidence. Obviously, the breathing room helped.”

Penn State, which led by 14 points at halftime, saw Michigan cut into its lead at the start of the second half behind Thompson’s 3-point shooting.

Thompson, who entered the game leading the Big Ten in 3-pointers made, had five against the Lady Lions. Three of those came during the first 10 minutes of the second half and help cut Penn State’s lead.

Another 3-pointer, this one from Michigan’s Rachel Sheffer, pulled the Wolverines to within 52-48 with 11:07 left.

Michigan got no closer the rest of the way.

Greene hit two free throws three minutes later to push the lead back over 10 points and Lucas’ jumper with 1:43 left made it a 12-point game.

“Teams are going to go on runs,” Lucas said. “We knew they were going to go on a run. It was just going to be on us to weather their run and play our style down to the end.”

MICHIGAN (19-8): Thompson 7-17 6-7 25, Elmblad 1-4 0-1 2, Jordan 5-10 4-5 14, Ryan 0-3 2-2 2, Sheffer 4-12 1-2 10, Harris 1-3 0-0 2, Ristovski 0-0 0-0 0, Arnold 1-5 0-0 2. Totals 19-54 13-17 57.

PENN ST. (23-3): Bentley 4-13 2-2 11, Nickson 5-8 1-2 11, Studevent 1-3 0-0 2, Wolfe 0-0 0-0 0, Greene 3-4 2-6 8, Agee 0-0 0-0 0, Taylor 2-7 0-0 4, East 0-0 0-0 0, Edwards 3-7 3-3 11, Lucas 7-17 4-4 21, Waldner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 12-17 68.

Halftime-Penn St. 40-26. 3-Point Goals-Michigan 6-20 (Thompson 5-13, Sheffer 1-5, Arnold 0-2), Penn St. 6-18 (Lucas 3-11, Edwards 2-2, Bentley 1-2, Taylor 0-3). Fouled Out-None. Rebounds-Michigan 32 (Jordan 10), Penn St. 43 (Greene 9). Assists-Michigan 13 (Ryan 9), Penn St. 15 (Bentley 5). Total Fouls-Michigan 18, Penn St. 17. A-14,173.