With leads late in both the fourth quarter and overtime, it was the Quakers’ game for the taking. Unfortunately for Penn women’s basketball, La Salle had other plans.
After La Salle erased a double-digit deficit to force overtime, freshman Shalina Millera hit a tough three with just 0.5 seconds left in the game to give the Explorers the 58-56 win on Wednesday night in the Palestra.
“We had control of the game,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “And the same things happened in overtime. We were up seven with two minutes to go, we don’t close and we really just left it on the table there.”
As tough as this loss was, it was impressive that Penn (3-4) was in such strong position to win the game to begin with. The Explorers (5-4) raced out to an 18-11 lead at the end of the first quarter, and if it wasn’t for the strong play of junior Michelle Nwokedi, the score could have been even uglier. The 6-foot-3 forward scored Penn’s first eight points to keep the Quakers within striking distance.
After the first quarter, the Red and Blue battled back quickly. Strong defense and three-point shooting helped the Quakers go on a 12-2 run, and at halftime, the score was 27-24 Penn.
“We regained composure and had a really great stretch there,” McLaughlin recalled.
It was more of the same in the third quarter, as Penn held La Salle to only five points for the entire period. Heading into the fourth, the game looked all but over with the Quakers holding a 40-29 lead.
La Salle stayed with it though, and after slowly chipping away, the Explorers were finally able to tie the game on a floater with 40 seconds left. As crushing as that shot was, Nwokedi came right back to regain the lead for Penn on a nifty reverse layup. It looked like Penn was going to tough out the victory, but La Salle quickly responded with another bucket of its own. Tied at 47-47, the game went into overtime.
After erasing such a big lead, La Salle had all the momentum. One would have thought the Explorers were going to run away with it at this point, but Penn rebounded once again. A series of baskets including a Nwokedi and-1 gave Penn a seven point lead, but just like it did in the fourth quarter, La Salle fought back.
After seeing the lead dwindle to just two points, Penn still had multiple opportunities to ice the game. But senior guard Kasey Chambers missed the first of a pair of free throws on one trip, and the Quakers came up empty on their final possession of the game with a lead of just one, setting up the Explorers’ game-winning three just before the buzzer.
“We just can’t be complacent,” said Nwokedi, who finished the game with 24 points and nine rebounds. “We can’t come out flat to begin with, and we just can’t be complacent when we get a lead. We need to keep fighting, keep working hard, and I think this group just needs to find the extra push to be able to do that.”
While this loss means Penn is still winless at home this season, it will be important for the Quakers to regroup before their next game on Saturday against Richmond. The Spiders will enter that game at 4-4, and leaving Virginia with a win will be no easy task for the Red and Blue.
When asked what Penn would have to do to differently to beat Richmond, Nwokedi thought the answer was pretty simple.
“Just execute, play hard for the 40 minutes that we are playing,” Nwokedi said. “And just play together as a team, it all starts with defense to offense.”
This was a game Penn should have won. Now, the Quakers will certainly travel to Richmond with a hungry, motivated team, but the pain of this loss against La Salle is one that could follow them much further.
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