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March 23, 2014

Lucas leads Penn State rally

STATE COLLEGE — Maggie Lucas sank one 3-pointer, followed with another, and pushed the crowd into a frenzy.

Penn State’s comeback was on full blast, and Lucas was leading the charge.

She refused to let the Lady Lions fall on the wrong side of history – not in this tournament, not on her home court.

Lucas scored 22 points, rallying Penn State from an early scare in a 62-56 win over Wichita State on Sunday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

She led the Lady Lions (23-7) back from an 11-point hole and becoming an unwanted piece of tournament history: A No. 3 seed has never lost a game to a 14.

“We work on situations like that, being down and staying calm,” Lucas said. “We were going to handle that pretty well.

“We figured things would start to go our way.”

They did in a big way. Lucas, the two-time Big Ten player of the year, led Penn State’s 17-0 run to open the second half that spurred them into the second round for the fourth straight year.

The Shockers (26-7) tried to make history happen, but could never sustain the early spurt that would have allowed them to pull off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.

Wichita State had one last small comeback. Michaela Dapprich’s 3-pointer with 1:53 left whittled a 12-point hole all the way to 56-54. Penn State’s Talia East went inside for a tough basket, and Lucas added a pair of late free throws to seal the win.

Lucas has led the Lady Lions to four straight NCAA tournament appearances, three regular-season Big Ten titles, and she holds the team and conference record for 3-pointers made.

“As long as she’s on the floor, she’s a threat,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “What one of the things that I liked about her was that she did other things. She impacted the game in ways beyond scoring.”

Lucas changed the game with a pair of 3s in the first half, then built a double-digit lead with another in the second.

Lucas buried a 3-pointer for a 12-point lead, then flashed three fingers to the crowd, which was going wild with every basket.

The Shockers scored a field goal with 19 second left in the first half, then missed 10 straight to open the second, finally scoring on Dapprich’s 3-pointer with about 12:18 left. She hit another 3 on the next possession that made it an eight-point game.

Determined to win and make history, the Shockers wouldn’t go away. Alie Decker’s 3 made it 50-45 and briefly quieted the crowd and the Shockers kept it a five-point game with just under 3 minutes left.

The Shockers just didn’t have enough.

“We were right there,” guard Alex Harden said.

Dapprich, who hit 5 of 10 3s, scored 19 points. Harden had 16 for the Shockers.

“I felt we were in a great position all game long,” coach Jody Adams said. “We made them take tough shots, they had to take tough looks at the rim, but the one thing that they did better than we did was board the ball.”

Ariel Edwards scored 17 points for the Lady Lions, and East had 13 points and 13 rebounds. Led by East, Penn State outrebounded the Shockers 46-29.

Wichita State, playing hours before the top-seed men’s team played in St. Louis, took control on a 10-0 run early in the first half and went bouncing and yelling into a timeout looking every bit a team ready to pull off a true shocker. The Shockers stretched the lead to 11 before the Lady Lions found their groove.

Lucas hit back-to-back 3-pointers that sliced the lead to four, then she cupped her ears to hear those raucous cheers and chest-bumped her teammates on the way off the court. Lucas, as she has so often for the Lady Lions, delivered another clutch bucket a possession later. Edwards drove the lane and her shot slowly rolled around the rim before the ball plopped through. She was fouled, missed the free throw, but Lucas hit a jumper off the offensive rebound and Penn State pulled to 24-23.

“You just know you have to play through some things,” Lucas said. “I just had to keep shooting, play through it. I was able to do that.”

The Shockers made 7 of 8 free throws in the first half and Penn State was only 1 of 5, enough of a difference to send Wichita State into halftime with a 30-25 lead.

“We expect more,” Adams said. “We expect to win in the NCAAs and it’s my job to lead this team to that point.”

The Lady Lions improved to 18-5 in tournament home games and will return Tuesday night to the Bryce Jordan Center for a second-round game.

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