Turnovers and several missed layups burdened the Lady Lions throughout Thursday’s game at Illinois.
But a well-executed inbound play with nine seconds left, resulting in a layup by Julia Trogele, broke a tie and gave Penn State a 67-65 win over the Fighting Illini.
The teams exchanged several leads in the second half, but Penn State (17-5, 6-2 Big Ten) performed when it mattered most.
“We knew that if we got a good screen, that would be able to roll right back directly to the basket,” assistant coach Kia Damon said to the Penn State Radio Network. “It worked out perfectly. Great pass. Great screen. Great execution by the players down the stretch.”
Trogele and Nikki Greene each had dominant games for the Lions — both recording double-doubles. Trogele finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Greene had 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Strong post play made up for the struggle of the Penn State guards, including an uncharacteristic performance by point guard Alex Bentley. The sophomore — who entered the game leading the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.04) — turned the ball over six times in the first half, while recording just one assist. She finished with eight turnovers and three assists.
As a team, the Lions had 24 turnovers and just six assists.
Six quick points by Greene to begin the second half gave the Lions a 34-30 lead. However, Illinois immediately responded with a string of baskets from beyond the arc.
Amber Moore, the Illini’s top 3-point shooter, started for just the third time this season. After missing all five of her 3-point attempts in the first half, she hit three straight in the second half.
However, the Lions fought back, thanks to timely contributions by Mia Nickson and Zhaque Gray. The two starters were each held scoreless for the first 32:13 of the game before Nickson recorded a 3-point play to give the Lions a one-point lead. Gray followed it up with a fast-break layup seconds later to give Penn State some momentum.
Despite her struggles, Bentley finished with 14 points and Maggie Lucas chipped in with 10.
The win improved Penn State to 4-3 on the road and gave the Lions a share of the Big Ten lead.
With a tight conference race, Damon said the team has to find a way to win games like Thursday’s.
“This is a hard place to play on the road,” Damon said. “For our kids to come up big like this is huge.”