UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It wasn't something that they could put into words immediately
following their Big Ten championship clinching win over Michigan, but there
were a lot of smiles on the faces of the Lady Lions when asked about their accomplishments
inside the Bryce Jordan Center this season.
"It's meant a lot," said senior Mia Nickson. " We love playing in the Bryce Jordan Center. I think from our freshman year until now the fan support has grown each year. The fans are great and our marketing department has done an outstanding job getting people out to our games, not to mention our student support has been great."
That support is one of the major reasons that the Lady Lions capped off the 10th undefeated season in school history and moved their home court winning streak to 20 games in front of 14,173 pink-clad fans on Sunday, the fourth largest crowd in Bryce Jordan Center history.
"We feed off of their emotion and when we hit our lull tonight in the second half they were still right there clapping and standing up," said Nickson. "That energy helped change the momentum of this game. [Our fans] are amazing and we like to protect our house for them."
Penn State had not scored in over five minutes and Rachel Sheffer's three pointer pulled the Wolverines to within four points, 54-48, with 11:07 to play in the game and momentum belonged solely to the Maize and Blue. That's when the crowd took over.
After a Michigan turnover sent the game to the third media timeout of the second half the crowd slowely worked its way into a frenzy. When the Lady Lions returned to the court, those fourteen thousand fans rose to their feet, waved their pink pom-poms and let their team know they were firmly behind them.
Then, with the shot clock winding down, senior Alex Bentley took two hard dribbles into the teeth of the UM zone and fired a pass to a wide open Ariel Edwards on the wing. Edwards caught the pass in rhythm and hit her second three pointer of the game with the shot clock expiring and that crowd erupted.
"The Bryce Jordan Center is like our second home," Bentley said after the game. "We might as well live here and [the support] means a lot to us. I am just happy that we were able to close it out with a win. This game was awesome, the fans were awesome and I am just really excited right now. I love my teammates and I am proud of them."
I know that if I would have had thousands of my friends over to my house to watch a basketball game the neighbors would not have been happy with all of the ruckus, not to mention I would need a few extra chairs, but on Sunday, Bentley's second home was filled with numerous supporters that were having a rowdy time and she and her teammates gave them the show they wanted.
"You see these girls, they're hams," said head coach Coquese Washington. "They are theatrical and they like [playing in front of this crowd]. They like all of the that stuff, so what they have accomplished in his building is great...we are pleased that we have been able to come into this building night in and night out and give our best effort and be one with our fans.
"We are proud that we have had a season like this where every time you leave a Lady Lion game you leave with a smile on your face."
A smile, a court full of confetti and a championship trophy was what the fans were able to leave with on Sunday. Penn State clinched at least a share of their second consecutive Big Ten Championship and as the fans in the stands jumped around, hollered and hugged, the same emotions were being shared on the court.
I watched as Nickson tugged on Bentley's jersey and when Bentley turned around and saw it was her hardworking, fellow senior the two hugged each other and the words 'how about this' came out of their mouths.
The 11 point victory secured just the 10th undefeated season in school history and the first since 2004-05 as they finished the year at 14-0 on the hardwood inside of the BJC. They haven't felt the pain of a loss since Jan. 7, 2012 vs. Michigan State and have now won 20 straight games in front of the Happy Valley faithful.
Their eight Big Ten wins in the building this season are the most home conference wins in school history and the win over the Wolverines capped a four-year record of 49-12 for the senior class. Added to that is the fact that it was also the 200th victory inside of the Bryce Jordan Center for the women's basketball program.
Hey Mia, how about that?
Those numbers are wonderful, but what matters most to Washington, and the rest of the Lady Lion players and coaches is winning and there is still plenty of that left to do.
"This was our vision, Coquese's vision," said Nickson. "We came in with thoughts of turning around this program, getting it back to where it was before and I think we all bought into that and worked really, really hard. It has worked out so far, but there is still room to grow and things to accomplish for this program."