WBB: Lady Lions Win A Nail-Biter Over No. 25 Michigan
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Penn State Lady Lions (19-9, 9-7 Big Ten) edged out the Michigan Wolverines (22-8, 11-5 Big Ten) 76-75 on Sunday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center. Donned in all-pink uniforms to honor the thousands of breast cancer survivors in attendance and around the world, the Lady Lions clawed back from an eight-point deficit in the final quarter to regain the lead late in the game and upset the 25-ranked Wolverines.
This was the final game of the regular season for both teams. The Lady Lions went into the game with a 13-1 record in the Bryce Jordan Center and fought until the very end to defend their home court. Coming off a 73-64 loss in East Lansing to Michigan State on Wednesday night, the Lady Lions started off the game slowly, falling behind 9-2 before burning a timeout. The team responded well and fought back to take a 15-14 lead on a Teniya Page finger roll in the final seconds of the opening quarter.
The Lady Lions quickly jumped out to a 31-24 lead in the second quarter thanks to their fast pace and strong rebounding. Despite their struggles from behind the arc throughout the game, Penn State still managed to shoot a higher percentage than the Wolverines, finishing with a team field goal percentage of 50.8 percent (finished 30.8 percent from three-point range and just 50 percent from the free-throw line). However, the Lady Lions were only able to attempt two free throws in the first half compared to Michigan’s ten first-half attempts. The Wolverines were able to cut into the deficit before the end of the second quarter, going into halftime trailing the Lady Lions 37-35.
Sophomore center Ashanti Thomas tied her career-high in points with 11 on a perfect 5-5 shooting from the field. When asked about her performance, Thomas credited her teammates. “I just felt really confident. When my teammates trust in me, it just puts me on another level. Even when we were down some, I just had to stay focused and stay locked in.”
Similarly to their start in the second quarter, Penn State jumped out to a big lead in the third. Thomas led the Lady Lions with seven points in the third quarter, helping extend the lead to a game-high 10 points at the half-way mark. However, Michigan was able to scratch their way back into the game thanks to some sharpshooting from guards Kysre Gondrezick and Katelynn Flaherty, who finished as the game’s two leading scorers, respectively. Outscoring the Lady Lions 23-19 in the third quarter, the Wolverines regained the lead and went into the final quarter leading 58-56.
Michigan would take their largest lead of the game, eight points, with seven minutes remaining. The Wolverines snatched some pivotal offensive rebounds, resulting in valuable second-chance points on their run. Despite facing Michigan’s smaller, quicker lineup, Penn State Coach Coquese Washington made the decision to leave in the taller Ashanti Thomas, who hauled in all three of her rebounds on the offensive glass. The defense of the Lady Lions responded to the scoring burst from Michigan and held them scoreless from the field for the final four minutes of the game.
Down by three points with less than a minute to play, Penn State redshirt freshman Amari Carter found herself wide open for the game-tying shot. Carter would nail the three-pointer, tying the game and leaving 33 seconds on the clock. Before that make, guard Lindsey Spann was the only Lady Lion to hit a three-point shot in the contest.
On the other end, Penn State’s strong defense forced a missed layup, allowing senior forward Kaliyah Mitchell to secure the rebound and take a foul from Michigan, sending her to the line with 5 seconds remaining. At her final home game in the Bryce Jordan Center, Mitchell made her first free throw, but missed the second to give the Lady Lions a one-point lead. Michigan guard and the game’s leading scorer Kysre Gondrezick took the rebound and sprinted down the court for a chance to win the game before losing the ball out of bounds underneath the basket with no time left. After a quick video review from the officials, it was confirmed that the ball was last touched by Gondrezick, thus giving Penn State the upset victory.
After the game, Coach Washington reflected on the crowd’s role in the big upset victory. “Our crowd was fantastic today and our kids played great off of their energy. You can feel it in the huddle. You could feel the positivity coming from the stands and you could feel the confidence the arena had in our team.”
With this win and with Northwestern losing this afternoon to Purdue, the Lady Lions jump up to the seventh spot in the Big Ten standings, vaulting over Northwestern. Michigan remains the three seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. The Lady Lions will face off against the tenth-seeded Minnesota at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, the second day of the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan won’t play again until the quarterfinals on Friday, March 3. All tournament games will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Bobby Brown in a junior broadcast journalism major. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.