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Lady Lions Knock Off Illinois 80-76 For Second Big Ten Win Of The Season

Penn State women’s basketball (5-7, 2-6 Big Ten) defeated Illinois (2-9, 0-8 Big Ten) 80-76 on the road Thursday night to pick up its second conference victory of the season.

Makenna Marisa led the way for the visitors with a game-high 24 points on 9-for-16 shooting. The sophomore guard notched an additional six rebounds and four assists to her impressive stat-line.

Despite fouling-out for the second consecutive game, star center Johnasia Cash finished the contest in double-double fashion with 14 points and 10 rebounds to help propel the Lady Lions to a much-needed triumph.

How It Happened

After beginning the game 0-for-4 as a team, the Lady Lions struck first with an Anna Camden layup to take an early 2-0 lead. Penn State immediately set up the patented Carolyn Kieger full-court pressure following the conversion, but a crafty Illini press break led to an easy lay-in for the opposition.

The Lady Lion backcourt struggled in the early going, as the Penn State guards went scoreless until nearly the two-minute mark in the opening quarter. Needing a score on the offensive end, steady senior Johnasia Cash made an effortless post move, bringing the score back to a one-point Lady Lion deficit.

Following the made basket from Cash, the fast-paced Illinois backcourt went on a tear. The Illinois went on a 7-0 run fueled by ball movement, leading to a Kieger timeout at the midway point of the quarter.

Cash made her second shot in the same amount of attempts following the timeout to break the Illinois hot-streak. Much to Kieger’s dismay, the full-court press crumbled again on the following possession resulting in an Illini three-pointer. The score extended the advantage to 15-7 in favor of the opposition.

The aggression on the defensive end of the floor finally paid off for Penn State late in the quarter. Shay Hagans entered the game and immediately came up with a massive steal and score, leading to a 7-0 Lady Lion run of its own. The late offensive surge resulted in an 18-18 stalemate at the end of the opening 10 minutes of play.

Less than 20 seconds into the second quarter, Makenna Marisa nailed deep three-pointer to give Penn State its first lead of the game. Illinois quickly answered with a three of its own, as the teams traded buckets for the first three minutes of the period with the score sitting at 23-23.

Marisa continued her offensive success with a smooth drive in isolation for her third made field goal of the contest. Cash continued to capitalize on and undersized Illinois front-court, and finished another stellar low-post move to give the Lady Lions a 6-0 run, and a 29-27 lead.

The run resulted in Illinois head coach Nancy Fahey reverting to a zone defense in an attempt to limit Cash’s production. The new look slowed the star senior, but didn’t stop her scoring tear, as she finished the half 5-for-10 from the field with 12 points.

In the half’s final minute, the energetic Hagans converted yet another steal into points in the form of a three-point-play. The tough finish extended the Lady Lion lead to four points, but Illinois stormed back with a three-point play of its own. As the first-half buzzer sounded, the Lady Lions entered the locker room with a slim 33-32 lead.

Penn State’s offense began the second half with a tremendously designed set, as Cash hit a slashing Marisa for an easy layup to begin a strong stretch of shooting for the visitors. The make led to a flurry of conversations by both teams, but the Lady Lions held on and extended the lead to a game-high 5-points.

The Lady Lion lead forced Illinois back into a 2-3 zone defense, but it didn’t solve the lack of pressure from the Illini. Hagans continued to be productive off the bench for Penn State by scoring another crafty layup to extend the run to 7-straight points, forcing an Illinois timeout.

Anna Camden added to Penn State’s momentum with yet another three-point-play opportunity for the Lady Lions, extending the advantage to 46-37. The score occurred via a pinpoint pass from Marisa, resulting in her third assist of the night.

Marisa then went on a scoring tear, leading to five-straight points by the sophomore guard late in the quarter. Maddie Burke also added in on the action by tallying a deep three-pointer to boost the scoring barrage. With three minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Lady Lions boasted an 11-point lead.

Penn State’s late scoring-spree came to an instant halt in the final seconds of the quarter. Illinois guard Jeanae Terry miraculously hit a half-court heave at the buzzer to cut the advantage to 61-52 in favor of the Lady Lions entering the final quarter.

The fourth quarter began with an explosion of three-pointers for Illinois, as the Illini instantly hit two deep shots in the opening two minutes. Just as the Lady Lions were squarely in control with a double-digit advantage, a 7-0 run for Illinois cut lead to just five.

Marisa’s dribble-penetration to the rim continued to confuse the Illini. The savvy guard converted her ninth made field goal of the game to keep the Lady Lions in a comfortable position, but a fourth made three-pointer of the quarter by Illinois kept the tension on Penn State by cutting the lead to one score.

The high-scoring affair continued in impressive fashion for both squads, but the fifth foul on Johnasia Cash left the Lady Lions with a void inside. Directly after Cash exited the court, Illinois made a layup down low to take its first lead in over two quarters of action with the score sitting at 72-71 with under two minutes to go.

In crunch time, the Lady Lions went back to Marisa, who found a cutting Hagans inside. The sophomore guard completed the play with a clutch finish at the rim to regain a one-point lead with less than one minute remaining. Penn State earned a much needed stop on the following possession, which lead to an enormous Maddie Burke three-pointer to bring the lead to two scores with 34-seconds to go.

The two teams traded conversions with seconds remaining, but a huge Penn State defensive rebound with nine ticks to go sealed the deal for the visitors, with the final score sitting at 80-76 in favor of the Lady Lions.


  • Makenna Marisa has transformed from a facilitator into a viable, No. 1 scoring option. After a 25-point output a game ago, Marisa followed with yet another 20-plus-point performance on over 50% shooting on 16 attempts.
  • Johnasia Cash was plagued by foul trouble down stretch. The star center entered the second half of play with four fouls to give, but picked up her fifth foul with less than five minutes to go. Cash notably fouled out in the final minutes in Monday’s loss against Minnesota, leaving the Lady Lions without a presence underneath in crunch time.
  • Sophomore guard Shay Hagans thrived off the bench. The Virginia-native notched 18 points on 50% shooting, giving Penn State a much needed lift on the offensive end. Additionally, the high-octane guard forced five steals, proving her value on both sides of the floor.
  • Kieger’s young team found itself on the right side of a tight four-quarter contest for the first time all season. The ability to convert down the stretch will serve as vital experience to the Big Ten’s youngest squad in close matchups to come.

What’s Next

The Lady Lions will continue their two-game road stretch with a matchup against Purdue on Sunday, January 31. Tipoff from Mackey Arena is set for 1 p.m.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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