BIMINI, BAHAMAS — They were 18 down at halftime.
Down, but not out.
Penn women’s basketball treated the Bahamas to an unbelievable 65-60 comeback victory over Missouri State to take third place at the Junkanoo Jam.
Things were looking miserable halfway through, after Penn (2-2) shot just 26.9 percent from the field — including four airballs — and gave up 11 turnovers. Only one player, junior forward Princess Aghayere, scored more than one basket from the field in the first half, and even still, she only scored two.
The Quakers weren’t gelling together. They totalled only three assists in the first 20 minutes.
“We thoroughly got outplayed,” coach Mike McLaughlin said curtly.
After the break, though, everything was different.
Exploding to life in the third quarter, Penn put up an incredible 27 points to draw within one of the Bears (1-4) with ten minutes left. The Red and Blue made 83 percent of their three-pointers in the frame — three of which came from senior captain Lauren Whitlatch. Fellow captain Anna Ross assisted two of those en route to four dimes for her that quarter, more than the whole team in the first half.
“Looking for Lauren in transition is just natural to me,” Ross said. “I’m like, ‘Where’s Lauren? Where’s Lauren?’ I know she’s at the three-point line, so I always find her.”
Ross assisted Whitlatch for half of her six made threes, with which she scored 18 points to lead her team on the night. Ross’ 11 points were second-best, and her seven assists were the most on either team. Her two third-quarter steals, though perhaps under-the-radar plays in the grand scheme of the thrilling game, were crucial in sparking Penn’s huge comeback.
“See[ing] her bust her butt on the court makes us want to do it even more,” Whitlatch explained.
With Penn trailing by one, Whitlatch hit the go-ahead three with 21 seconds left in the game. Penn’s 62-60 lead was just its second time in front all night, after a brief stint eight minutes earlier. In total, the Quakers led for one of the contest’s 40 minutes.
Ross dispatched three free throws in the last 15 seconds once the Bears’ Liza Fruendt, who led the game with 25 points, missed her would-be-game-tying shot and needed to start fouling. Those three points took the game to its final score of 65-60.
“We’re gonna enjoy the heck out of this one,” McLaughlin said. “It was a great comeback, a great team win, and a great program win.”
The incredible comeback had shades of last year’s season-ending loss in the NCAA Tournament to Texas A&M. Up 21 with just over eight minutes to go, the Quakers fell victim to the largest comeback in tournament history. The Aggies led for just one minute and 39 seconds.
This time, though, they got to enjoy the flip side of the same coin.
“I said this last year, when we had that struggle in the end against Texas A&M, that eventually we’d be in the same spot and get to feel the other side of it,” McLaughlin said. “I mentioned that to them, and I think it’s pretty cool.”
Penn’s win allows the team to leave its Thanksgiving trip to the Bahamas with its heads held high, making amends for Thursday’s disappointing 69-55 defeat to Georgia Tech. Lessons learned and all-important bonding are the biggest things the team will take away from the trip, McLaughlin said, and they’ll refocus upon returning home.
The Quakers will be in action again next Wednesday when they travel across the city to La Salle for their first Big 5 matchup of the season.
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