Though the Michigan women’s basketball team seemed to be in control for most of its game against Penn State (1-5 Big Ten, 6-11 overall) on Sunday, it took everything the Wolverines had to hold on for a 91-87 victory on the road.
Composure from the free-throw line and the team’s ability to get the ball into the hands of sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty, who was 9-for-10 from the stripe on the night, kept Michigan (3-3, 11-6) a step ahead in its first win in State College since 2001.
Despite allowing Penn State to close the gap, Michigan turned in a strong defensive performance in the first half, limiting the Nittany Lions to just 37-percent shooting from the floor. The Wolverines turned it up a notch to begin the third quarter, stretching their lead to 15 at one point, in large part due to the fact that Penn State had no answer for freshman center Hallie Thome in the post and in transition.
Thome finished the contest with 18 points, five rebounds and four blocks, though she fouled out with 2:03 left in the game.
Fouls were a problem for both teams as junior guard Siera Thompson joined Thome in fouling out, committing her fifth in the last minute of the game, and the Nittany Lions also had three players reach the foul limit.
Flaherty found her groove in the second half to make up for it, leading the Wolverines in scoring with 23 points for the game, which included 4-for-5 shooting from 3-point range.
Penn State made it uncomfortable for Michigan late, going on a 7-0 run with four minutes left in the fourth. The Nittany Lions continued to claw their way back, cutting the Michigan lead all the way down to five with only a minute left. The charge was led by guard Teniya Page, who finished the game with 31 points, though the Wolverines were able to avoid a big collapse on the road, relying on late free throws to shut Penn State’s window of opportunity.
“I thought Penn State did a tremendous job of fighting and fighting and battling back,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Every time we got up 10 or 12 points they would make another run.”
“We’ve lost three games that have come down to this and we didn’t make our free throws down the stretch, so tonight it was great to see.”
After the game began with a nearly two minute scoreless streak by both teams, the Wolverines found their stride, benefitting from strong first-quarter performances by Thompson and Thome, who combined for 15 points on the way to a 23-14 lead for Michigan.
Leading by nine to start the second quarter, the Wolverines turned to their bench as starters Thome, Thompson and Flaherty each picked up two personal fouls. The foul trouble, along with 13 turnovers, allowed the Nittany Lions to cut their deficit to four at the half.
“Our turnovers were so unforced at times,” Barnes Arico said. “They were in transition when we had numbers and we had opportunities … so that will be something that we’ll definitely emphasize.”