Even though the Michigan band jeered, “We’re not Penn State” while the Nittany Lions took free throws, Penn State and the Michigan women’s basketball team played strikingly similar. Both struggled to shoot from behind the arc, take care of the basketball and played through their stars.
But on the Wolverines’ Senior Day, Michigan outperformed its counterpart in the fourth quarter to pull off a 78-73 victory.
After the Wolverines started the game on a 10-3 run, the Nittany Lions called a timeout. After the Penn State players stepped onto the floor again, their defensive pressure intensified, bringing the action more up-tempo.
Michigan, a team that usually prefers to play in transition, looked rushed with the change of pace as it missed a wide open layup, turned the ball over six times and missed five 3-pointers in the first quarter alone to fall behind, 17-15, at the end of the period.
Both the Wolverines and Nittany Lions struggled to make baskets as both suffered from shots rimming out and poor shot selection. Midway through the second quarter, Michigan was shooting 33 percent (8-for-24) and Penn State was shooting at a 35 percent clip (7-for-20). To add to the lackluster start, the Wolverines made careless passes in transition, stunting opportunities to develop a rhythm when they were not making baskets to begin with.
“In the first half we struggled with wide open shots. I don’t think we’ve been that wide open all year,” said sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty.
Michigan ended the half down 37-32, but it took momentum into the locker room as Flaherty knocked down a jump shot to beat the buzzer. The shot capped off an average half for Flaherty, who had nine points but also three turnovers. The Wolverines had 11 turnovers in the first half, nearing their average of 15.4 a game.
After junior guard Siera Thompson fired a pass that was intercepted by a Nittany Lion to give Penn State a 5-0 run to start the third quarter, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico called a timeout as the coaches met up separately from the team before grouping up as a whole.
“In the first half we got a lot of shots and we couldn’t get a lot of those shots to fall, and that was discouraging and affected us on the defensive end,” Barnes Arico said. “We still came out flat to start the third quarter, so when we came out, I just told them that they had to give better effort.”
Thompson followed her mistake with a 3-pointer, giving Michigan the jolt it needed to cut the deficit to two by the next timeout. After an and-1 by sophomore forward Jillian Dunston and a 3-pointer by freshman guard Boogie Brozoski, the Wolverines took the lead with 3:35 left in the third quarter.
The Nittany Lions took a 55-52 lead going into the fourth quarter, but Michigan ended the third quarter on a 20-12 run.
Freshman center Hallie Thome began the fourth quarter with an off-balance and-1 to tie the game. Flaherty backed up the effort with a 3-pointer to continue the hot start. Three minutes later, Flaherty knocked down another three to give the Wolverines a six-point lead.
“I think once one of us gets going — today it was me — that everyone gets more confident and shots start to fall all around,” Flaherty said.
Added Barnes Arico: “In the fourth quarter, our team did a great job of finding Katelynn, who has such a high percentage shooting, and Hallie and got her touches inside … We really found them and that was important for us to be able to score the basketball better.”
Penn State had an opportunity to tie the game with just under three minutes left in the game, but the layup attempt rimmed out. On Michigan’s next possession, Flaherty struck again from behind the arc for her fifth 3-pointer of the game. She ended with 30 points. On the Wolverines’ next possession, senior guard Madison Ristovski sunk a floater at the buzzer to give Michigan a seven-point lead.
“There were only five seconds left on the clock and I was like, ‘I missed all day, maybe I’ll try one more time,’ ” Ristovski said. “It was cool because I beat it off the buzzer, but I think it was at a really important time in the game. We were in a scoring drought and I had no idea. I’m happy it helped propel the team to win.”
Dunston stepped up to the line with the Wolverines up by four, but missed both free throws. The Nittany Lions attempted to cut the lead to one, but the 3-point attempted touched nothing but air. Penn State’s next desperation 3-pointer wouldn’t fall either.
In the waning minute, Flaherty was fouled and made both of her free throws. The band chanted to the Nittany Lions, “See ya.”