Northridge, Calif. – Sixth-ranked Penn State overcame a 17-point first half deficit to beat Cal State Northridge, 85-73, to win the Radisson Chatsworth Thanksgiving Tournament Saturday afternoon. It was a physical, fast game that saw seven players from both teams in double figures.
Maggie Lucas, who was named tournament MVP, lead the Lady Lions, now 5-0, with 23 points. Nikki Greene added 21 points and a career-tying high 20 rebounds, and Alex Bentley had 19 points.
Freshman Marta Masoni lead the 3-2 Matadors with 22 points, including five three-pointers. Ashlee Guay had 15 points, Violet Alama 11 and Randi Friess, 10. Camille Mahlknecht had a career-tying high 13 rebounds.
CSUN scored first and Penn State returned the favor, but the Matadors began firing, took the lead and did not let up. Lucas and Bentley were replaced after more than three minutes, but Lion reserves did no better. By the 11:43 mark CSUN was up 24-12, and at 5:49 in the period, they lead 33-16. Two Lucas shots and a buzzer-beater by Bentley to end the period sliced the Matador lead to 41-35.
The Lions continued their assault in the second half, and CSUN was flat at first. The visitors took a one-point lead at 15:44 to go, but a Masoni trey fueled a mini-Matador run to put them back up by seven. The two teams traded baskets for the next several minutes, with CSUN’s lead varying between two and six points.
A Bentley long shot at 3:57 to go tied the game at 70, but it wasn’t until well under three minutes to go that a Lucas three-shot put Penn State ahead for good at 75-72. Key rebounds for Greene – who had 13 of her 20 in the second half – and free throws iced the game for the Lions.
Lucas attributed Penn State’s difficulties to their lack of defensive execution.
“We had defensive breakdowns that we need to make better,” Lucas said. “(CSUN) shot well today – a credit to them – they came out today and were ready to play. We had to grind that one out.”
Lady Lions Coach Coquese Washington said that not only was her team not playing effective defense, but their opponents were shooting well. She told the Lions to remain calm and focus on getting rebounds. By the second half, they had picked up their defense.
“CSUN got the dribble penetration, and late in the game we fixed it,” she said. “We fixed our ball screen defense with our help rotation, and we were able to not let them get to the basket so easily.”
Guay said the Matadors came mentally prepared for battle. During the second half, when the two teams were trading basket for basket, both coaches and athletes kept the team going.
“We just knew that we had nothing to lose out here, so we came out with the mentality that we’re going to play as hard as we can,” Guay said. “Every single time, coach kept reminding us that they are going to get runs, but we’re going to fight back every time. We kept going and going.”
“I’m just really proud of how hard we went and how hard we started and finished the game. In the huddle after fouls we kept reminding each other to relax, play our games, and that we were still in this, we can do it – don’t give up and let’s keep playing.”
Matadors Coach Jason Flowers said that although he is disappointed they lost, he told the team he was proud of their effort.
“I thought our kids played extremely hard and tough. When you play against a team like Penn State, the margin for error is very small. You have one breakdown and they’ll make you pay,” he said. “The challenge at halftime was they’re going to make runs in the second half because they’re a good team. And we always talk about how we’re going to respond.”
“At the beginning of the half when they went on that run, our kids responded. We have character kids who want to be good and work their butts off.”
Both coaches were complimentary of the other’s program.
“They’re probably going to be a tough team in their conference,” Washington said of CSUN. “They’ve got a lot of weapons, and they shoot the ball very well. They’re unselfish, and they play really well together as a team.”
Flowers said he was happy to have the Lady Lions play at the tournament, and it gave his players valuable experience.
“Coquese has done a great job. She’s built the program into a top program in America. It was good for our kids (to play them).”
Third place game: South Alabama 59, Detroit 56
South Alabama prevailed 59-56 in a close match up with Detroit that went down to the wire to take the tournament’s third place trophy.
The game featured six ties, seven lead changes, and a maximum lead margin of only six points..
Mary Nixon lead the Jaguars with 19 points, and Mansa El added 17. Veronica Cherizol snared 10 rebounds.
For the Titans, Sharetta Brown put up 18 points, Rosanna Reynolds 11 and Yar Shayok, 10.
A three-point shot by Nixon at the four-minute mark put South Alabama up 52-48, and they hung on to the lead to take the game.
Jaguars Coach Rick Pietri, in his 13th season, said his teams have been known for their defense. And it was their defensive performance that keyed the win.
“Defensively we did a reasonable job of limiting their post feeds,” he said.
Pietri said they’ve also worked on closing out wins, which was helpful Saturday.
“When we make big plays, we get wins,” he said.