By Ryan Berti, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The year has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but the Lady Lions aim to end the season on a high-note with a bid to the Women's National Invitational Tournament.
Head Coquese Washington and her squad will be prepared to take on Ohio at the Bryce Jordan Center this Friday at 7 p.m. This marks the first time in postseason play for the Penn State since 2014, where the Lady Lions made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament.
This year's WNIT berth is the first for Penn State since 2010 and the third in program history. The Blue and White won the inaugural event back in 1998 and now boast a 4-1 record in tournament play. The Lady Lions will be just one of six teams competing that have won it all before, joining Missouri State (2005), Wyoming (2007), Oklahoma State (2012), Drexel (2013) and South Dakota (2016).
In the first round, Penn State has the task of trying to tame the visiting Ohio Bobcats. As one of five teams representing the Mid-American Conference, the Bobcats put up a 22-9 record while going 12-6 in conference play. During the regular season, Ohio split its games against Big Ten competition, defeating Illinois but falling to Michigan.
A key matchup in this contest to watch for is the high scoring guard play between the Penn State's Teniya Page and Ohio's Quiera Lampkins. Just 0.2 points per game separates these two in the national rankings, where Page sits 20th in the country with the exact same number of points per game, meanwhile Lampkins trails slightly behind at No. 24 in the nation with 19.8.
The Lady Lions will have to be careful with how they handle the ball against the Bobcats, as they hold the NCAA's 18th best turnover margin at a plus-5.9 clip. Penn State will hope the home atmosphere can counter that production, posting a 14-1 record at home. Ohio has found most of its woes when away from Athens, Ohio, going a combined 8-7 when away or at a neutral location.
If Penn State is able to pick up the win Friday night and advance, a matchup awaits with the winner of Georgetown (17-12, 9-9 Big East) or Fordham (21-11, 11-5 Atlantic 10).
Each team presents its own challenge and could prove to be an interesting adversary in the second round.
On one hand, Fordham has a very stingy defense. The Rams are the 16th best in the country at defending teams beyond the arc, limiting opponents to just 27.6 percent from deep. They also make sure teams have to earn their points, only allowing teams to score an average of 56.0 points per game, good for the No. 20 spot nationally. That should be a solid test for the Lady Lions offense that owns a top-50 offense with 73.3 points per game.
On the other hand, the Hoyas of Georgetown beat their opponents by creating opportunities while limiting the same for their foes. The Big East team ranks in the top 50 in the country in offensive rebounds per game (15 orpg, 29th), steals per game (9.7 spg, 47th) and turnover margin (+4.24, 34th). Don't expect them to cough the ball up either, as Georgetown commits the ninth fewest turnovers nationwide with just 370 over the year.
Penn State has played each in the last two seasons. The Hoyas bested the Lady Lions this year, 68-54, in the San Juan Shootout, while the Blue and White took out Fordham, 79-75, last season at home.
In the Lady Lions' only other WNIT appearances, they were a first round out (2010) and won it all (1998). It's a small sample size, but if the trend continues, this weekend's matchups could determine Penn State's postseason destiny.