Following Penn State’s 90-80 victory over LSU Tuesday, PSU guard Maggie Lucas walked up to the podium for the post-game press conference sporting a big smile - and even bigger blue and silver Mardi Gras beads around her neck.
Coming off one of the best games in her short collegiate career, Lucas, who averages 19.1 points per game, had a simple explanation.
“I just got in my rhythm,” the sophomore guard said.
Lucas, a Narberth, Pa., native, was outstanding on the night for the Lady Lions.
She hit 3-point shot after 3-point shot, free throw after free throw, and frustrated a typically stout LSU defense.
Within 8 seconds of play, Lucas buried a 3-pointer in the corner - which gave a quick glimpse of how the night would unfold.
In the first half, she shot 5-for-6 from beyond the arc, 6-for-8 from the field and added 19 points.
Penn State rushed out to a 9-0 advantage early, with Lucas accounting for five of the nine points. However, the Lady Tigers fought back, but every time they would draw close it was Lucas who was there to answer.
“Penn State is a very explosive team with very explosive guards,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. “They have three guards that can shoot the 3 ball.”
After Jeanne Kenney knocked down two free throws, LSU tied the score for the first time of the night with a 17-17 count at the 9:55 mark. One minute later, Lucas countered with a 3-point shot.
Toward the end of the first half, Lucas was there again.
LaSondra Barrett, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, cut PSU’s lead to 31-30 with 2:51 remaining. On the ensuing possession, Zhaque Gray missed a long 3-point attempt, but Lucas was there for the offensive rebound before she launched a 3 of her own – this one connecting with the bottom of the net.
“The first half they were playing that zone and Maggie was able to get free,” Penn State head coach Coquese Washington said. “The first half flowed Maggie’s way.”
LSU came out with a different defensive mentality in the second half and limited Lucas’ performance - at least in terms of points scored.
Lucas recorded 11 points in the second half, with 8 coming by way of the free throw line with under 1:10 remaining.
Even with LSU stopping Lucas from downtown, the attention her way allowed her teammates to be open underneath. Penn State took advantage and scored 24 points in the paint in the second half.
“Our post players took over,” Lucas said. “Mia and Nikki were just dominating inside and finishing great every time. Our team is so balanced and anyone can impact the game in a huge way.“
In the second half, forwards Nikki Greene (7 points) and Mia Nickson (6 points and 5 rebounds) helped hold off the pesky Lady Tigers, but it was the play of Ariel Edwards – and Lucas late – that helped PSU to move on to play UConn in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
Edwards, who finished with 15 points, scored 10 in the second half. From the 9:38 mark to 3:41 to play, Edwards answered nearly every LSU basket. After a Bianca Lutley layup gave LSU a 55-53 lead, Edwards went on 6-2 scoring run to maintain the lead for the Lady Lions.
With LSU trailing 69-65 with 4:18 remaining, it was Edwards who connected on two big free-throws to give PSU a six point lead.
The success of Edwards late was a direct correlation to Lucas’ first half.
Washington said Lucas is a tremendous player to coach and is even more fun to play with because of her unselfish mindset about the game.
“She’s got really good composure and she’s got a very strong competitive will,” Washington said. “She opens things up for other players and she doesn’t worry about when her next shot is coming.”
Lucas – again, just a sophomore – has much more time left at Penn State, and with a big-time shot and willingness to open the floor to others, she could make a name for herself as a premier player in the NCAA.
Unfortunately for LSU, they caught her when she was red hot.