Lucas Scores 34 as Lady Lions Beat Nebraska for Outright Big Ten Title
With the outright possession of the Big Ten Conference championship title on the line, the No. 7 Lady Lions (24-4, 14-2) traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska after a tough loss to Minnesota on Thursday night. With a loss, the Lady Lions would share the title with No. 20 Nebraska (22-7, 12-4). With a win, the regular season championship would belong to Penn State for the second year in a row.
The Lady Lions made it known that they don’t like to share.
Junior Maggie Lucas, with a career-high eight 3-pointers, scored 34 points in the aggressive, emotional game. She added nine rebounds and three steals as well in one of her most dominating performances of the season.
Emotions were high as it was Nebraska’s senior day, as well as the last women’s basketball game to be played in the Devaney Center. To start the game, Nebraska went on a 6-2 run. Penn State was on an adrenaline rush, taking bad shots and turning the ball over, but Nebraska’s scrappy play leveled the game play.
Lucas went on a 10-0 run on her own, giving Penn State the 14-8 lead with 12:23 left in the first half, as Nebraska went scoreless for over six minutes.
Defense was key, as the Lady Lions kept Nebraska leading scorer Jordan Hooper from scoring until the 13th minute; however, with Penn State already in bonus with 10:50 left, free throws kept Nebraska in the game.
To keep the offense going, Lucas, with shoulder fakes and pull-up jumpers, scored 18 points in just the first half. Senior Alex Bentley contributed with her confident fade-aways and forcing turnovers. Bentley ended the game with 13 points.
Major contributor and senior for Nebraska Lindsey Moore was called for her third foul with 4:26 in the first half, giving Lucas a chance at the line (she went 2-for-2) and Penn State the 31-29 lead.
Senior Nikki Greene scored a quiet but aggressive 6 points in the first and grabbed major rebounds. Senior Mia Nickson contributed with drives down the lane leading to important free throw opportunities.
To end the half, Lucas pulled up for a jumper just before the buzzer to give Penn State a 38-32 lead.
The second half started with Penn State forcing the ball inside and even more foul trouble, but also more scoring opportunities for Nickson and junior Ariel Edwards.
After 6 minutes, Lucas had knocked down three 3-pointers, as Nebraska’s Jordan Hooper began to find her game. Bentley committed her 3rd foul with 14:13 left in the game, but soon after came back with another easy jumper at 13:06 to give Penn State the 53-47 lead.
Just as the Lady Lions looked like they were going to pull away, Nebraska came back with a 3-point play and started to pull apart Penn State’s defense, reducing the deficit to just three points.
At 11:40, Greene went down hard, and the rest of her teammates wouldn’t let the Cornhuskers forget it. Bentley scored the next four points with a jumper and a breakaway after shaking off three defenders down the lane. Lucas was fouled with 8:56 left in the game and made both from the charity stripe to give Penn State the biggest lead of the game thus far, 63-52.
In the last eight minutes of the game, Penn State scored 19 points with the help of Nickson, Edwards, and Lucas who hit a 2 to end it and give Penn State the 82-67 win.
This win gives Penn State sole possession of the Big Ten Championship title for the second season in a row, and snaps a 10-game winning streak for the Cornhuskers. The Lady Lions get a bye for the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and will begin play on Friday.