With just less than one minute left on the clock Penn State was holding on to the lead by just a single point over Minnesota .
But with Maggie Lucas being sent the free throw line and sinking both of her shots, it looked to be over for the Golden Gophers last night.
The veteran leadership of Lucas and point guard Alex Bentley carried the No. 8 Lady Lions (16-2, 6-0 Big Ten) to a 64-59 victory over the Gophers (13-7, 2-4 Big Ten).
In a game that had 13 lead changes and the score being tied 12 times, it only seemed fitting that it came down the final seconds.
“Critical plays and critical calls at the end. That was the only difference,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said.
The head-to-head battle of two of the Big Ten’s leading scorers of Lucas and Rachel Banham was ultimately won by Lucas who lead all scorers with 26 points followed by Banham with 19 for the Gophers.
“Rachel Banham is a fantastic offensive player. There are a lot of tough teams in our conference and we don’t have any misconception that we are not going to be challenged on a nightly basis,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “Minnesota came in and I thought they played fantastic and we feel good that we were able to withstand their run and come away with a win.”
The Lions have not found themselves in such a tight game since nearly two months ago in a loss to then-No. 2 Connecticut. But Lucas said it was a good experience for the team to be able to fight through a tough game like last night.
The Penn State offense started off rather slowly, shooting just 35.3 percent from the floor in the first and was shooting just 40-percent from three-point range. And aside from the offensive slump, foul trouble was another problem for both squads.
“I just think we needed to take our time more, really use our offensive sets and get out in transition more. We didn’t have a lot of transition,” Bentley said. “But we started executing down the stretch and that’s how we won the game.”
Again, it was another strong defensive showing that would propel the Lions, who forced 23 turnovers and totaled eight blocks — five of which were from forward Tori Waldner off the bench.
Barton said that she had to credit Penn State’s defense for its pressure, especially in the post.
“We really rely on our defense, we thought if we can get a few stops and then just execute offensively we would be in good shape,” Lucas said. “I thought we handled ourselves pretty well down there.”
The Lions remain the only undefeated team in the Big Ten, but will be put to the test on Sunday against the conference’s leading scorer, Tayler Hill of Ohio State.