First Posted: 1/24/2013
(AP) Maggie Lucas scored 26 points, and Nikki Greene had 13 rebounds and hit three key second-half buckets to help No. 8 Penn State hold off Minnesota 64-59 on Thursday night.
Alex Bentley added 12 points as the Lady Lions (16-2, 6-0 Big Ten) hung on for their 10th straight win despite struggling from the field.
The Gophers (13-7, 2-4) had a chance to take the lead twice late with the ball in the hands of their best player, Rachel Banham (19 points). But the sophomore was whistled for traveling and an offensive foul on back-to-back possessions with 1:09 left, with Minnesota trailing by one each time.
Banham then missed a potential tying 3 with 13 seconds left and Lucas pumped her arms after getting fouled on the other end. Her two free throws gave Penn State an insurmountable five-point lead with 2.9 seconds left.
Micaella Riche added 12 points for Minnesota.
The Gophers nearly pulled off an upset in one of the toughest venues in the Big Ten. Penn State hasn’t lost at the Jordan Center in more than year.
Minnesota kept Penn State off-guard defensively by attacking the basket and making tough shots in the lane with Banham and reserve Leah Cotton (seven points) taking strong drives to the hoop.
It didn’t help Penn State that Lucas was often the team’s only offensive threat for long spurts. Bentley struggled with her mid-range jumper, while Greene and the Lady Lions’ other inside players struggled to make shots whether open or with hands in their faces.
That changed midway through the second half, when Greene hit a layup to tie the score at 47 before converting a missed foul shot for a three-point lead. Then Bentley finally found her shot with mid-range jumper for a 52-47 lead with 5:28 left.
Greene finished with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting all three makes in the final 7:54.
Minnesota never took the lead again, but the Gophers never made it easy. Riche’s layup with 50 seconds left drew her team to 60-59, but Lucas hit all four of her foul shots during the final stretch and Penn State forced two turnovers in the last 7 seconds.
The Lady Lions are off to their best start since 1999-00.
Minnesota tested Penn State from the start, wiggling past the Lady Lions’ tough defense with dribble penetration to help stay within 31-29 at halftime. Cotton gave Minnesota a spark off the bench in the first half with four rebounds and five points, surpassing her season averages.
Minnesota, which was off to its best start since 2007-08, kept it close despite 10 first-half turnovers. They finished with 23 on the night, 11 coming off Penn State steals.