HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Maggie Lucas waved her fist and let out a howl as she peeled herself up from the floor after getting knocked down while hitting a second straight 3-pointer. Penn State had Ohio State staggering, and the Lady Lions were left standing in the end.
Lucas hit those big 3s during the go-ahead run while scoring 18 in the game, Alex Bentley led with 20 points and No. 8 Penn State knocked off the Buckeyes 76-66 in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
“It means a lot,” Lucas said. “We were focused on one game at a time. So we were glad to get this first win. Ohio State was playing well coming into this, they played well tonight so we were glad to get the ‘W.’”
The top-seeded Lady Lions (25-4) had their difficulties in this one after earning a first-round bye and their second straight regular-season title with a 14-2 conference record.
But they went on a big run early in the second half to break a tie and advance to today’s semifinals against Michigan State, a 62-46 winner over Michigan.
Bentley was 8 of 13 from the field. Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year, hit three 3-pointers.
Nikki Greene scored 17, and the Lady Lions shook off a slow start to shoot just over 49 percent in the game.
Tayler Hill scored 23 for Ohio State (18-13) and became the fifth Buckeyes player to hit the 2,000-point mark. She now has 2,015 in her career, but it was a tough night overall, even though she tried to inject some suspense as the game wound down.
Hill hit back-to-back 3-pointers and added a free throw after being fouled on another attempt from long range, pulling the Buckeyes within 73-66 with 42 seconds left. But she was just 7 of 21 from the field after scoring 25 in the first round against Minnesota.
Amber Stokes had 18 points and five steals. Ashley Adams added 13 points and eight rebounds, but the ninth-seeded Buckeyes came up short after winning seven of their previous nine games. Now, they’ll have to wait to find out their postseason fate.
“It’s out of our hands,” Hill said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see and stay positive.”
An NCAA bid might be a longshot. Then again, coach Jim Foster wasn’t completely ruling it out even if he was hardly a picture of optimism.
“Well, stranger things have happened,” he said. “I don’t know. The committee, if you asked me today, ‘Are we one of the best 64 teams in the country right now?’ My response would be we certainly are. But there’s X number of automatic bids, and you can look at things in many different ways. So I don’t expect it, but you never know.”
With an experienced and explosive backcourt led by Bentley and Lucas and the depth to play just about any style, Penn State believes it has the makeup for a long postseason run. Winning the conference tournament would be a significant step. That’s something the Lady Lions haven’t done since 1996.
They came in as the second seed two years ago and lost to Ohio State in the final, and last season, Penn State earned the top seed, only to fall to fourth-seeded Purdue in the semifinals. The Lady Lions finally started to build some momentum early in the second half, going on a 14-2 run to break a 39-39 tie.
They scored 10 straight, starting with Bentley’s fast-break jumper, and Lucas really gave her team a jolt when she nailed those back-to-back 3s, letting her emotions show after she got knocked to the floor by Stokes on that second one.
Never mind that Lucas missed the free throw to complete a four-point play. That sequence clearly lifted the Lady Lions, and when Mia Nickson added two free throws, that made it 49-39 with 14:05 remaining.
Ferguson scored for Ohio State, but Nickson answered with a jumper and Greene scored on a layup to put Penn State ahead 53-41 with 12:24 left.
“Every time Maggie hits a 3, our energy offensively and defensive, it changes the game,” Bentley said. “It’s very exciting and I’m sure it’s exciting to watch. She’s just that dagger. And when a player’s that hot hitting threes, it’s hard to bounce back.”