BUFFALO, N.Y. – Despite trailing by as many as 16 points in Saturday afternoon's Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference game, the Penn State Altoona women's basketball team came back to defeat D'Youville College 83-81 at the College Center Gym.
The win is Penn State Altoona's (6-7, 4-3 AMCC) first road win of 2018-19, and it also represents the Lady Lions' third consecutive victory. The team has now won four of its past six games, picking up three AMCC wins during that stretch.
"Great conference win for our program today," said Penn State Altoona head coach Casey Wilt. "D'Youville plays exceptionally well at their place, and their team makeup can hurt you in a variety of ways.
Penn State Altoona was powered a career-best performance from Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), who notched career-highs by scoring 26 points and grabbing 16 rebounds to record her seventh double-double of the season. She also led her team with three blocks and tied for the team-lead in steals with two.
Finnley Christine (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) added 22 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, and Paige Burk (Claysburg, PA/Claysburg-Kimmel) scored 12 points to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Jessica Stevens (Altoona, PA/Altoona) led all players with a season-high eight assists, while also recording eight points, five boards, and two steals, and Kaley Strittmatter (Williamsburg, PA/Penn Cambria) scored nine points. Alivia Borlie (Belsano, PA/Bishop Carroll) chipped in six points and four rebounds.
Penn State Altoona posted an efficient performance from the field, shooting 49.2% (31-for-63) as a team. That helped the Lady Lions overcome their 21 turnovers, 11 of which came during the first quarter.
"Down the stretch, we had several players hit some big shots. Paige, Jess, and Kay hit big threes for us, and Alivia's pressure defense created chaos and forced shots," Wilt explained. "Lex worked her butt off on the inside and on the boards, finishing with a double-double."
D'Youville's (4-7, 1-3 AMCC) Danielle Hore and Jordan Smith each finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, while Darian Evans and Monica June added 11 points apiece. Evans also grabbed 11 rebounds.
The Lady Lions held a nine-point lead midway through the first quarter, before D'Youville came back to narrow its deficit to one.
After the home team scored the game's opening basket on June's layup at 9:48, Penn State Altoona reeled off a 15-4 run. Seven points came from Christine during that run, and Strittmatter's layup at 5:26 gave her team a 15-6 advantage.
But D'Youville outscored Penn State Altoona 12-4 in the remainder of the first quarter. Smith's three-pointer started the run, followed by a pair of layups from Sydney Alton – the second of which resulted in a three-point play to cut the Lady Lions' lead to 15-14 at 2:44. Hore's layup with 45 seconds left in the quarter closed the scoring in the period, with Penn State Altoona clinging to a 19-18 lead.
D'Youville continued to ride its momentum into the second quarter, during which it posted a 26-13 scoring advantage. A three-pointer from Kailey Kellner and two buckets by Hore gave the Lady Spartans a 25-21 lead less than a minute into the period. Three jump shots made by Evans increased the score to 33-21 by 5:18. Hore's trey and another Evans jumper increased D'Youville's lead to 16 points, 42-26, its largest of the day.
During the final 2:38 of the half, Penn State Altoona got a layup and two free throws from Cannistraci, along with a layup from Christine, to work its deficit down to 12 points, 44-32, by halftime.
"We had a lead in the first, and within moments, we lost it due to being careless with the basketball. To commit 11 turnovers in the first quarter is unacceptable," said Wilt. "However, at the half, we made the adjustments needed to chip away at their lead and put ourselves back in position to win. We tightened up our defense, took much better care of the ball by only committing five turnovers in the second half, and dictated our style of play."
Penn State Altoona turned the tables on D'Youville in the third quarter, outscoring the Lady Spartans 26-15. Two baskets from Strittmatter and scores from Burk and Christine narrowed the gap to six points, 47-41, by 7:06. Christine's layup at 5:09 made it 49-46. Two three-pointers by Burk helped keep the difference at three points, 55-52, and Stevens' layup at 2:48 brought her team to within one point, 55-54. Baskets from Christine and Borlie inside the last two minutes of the quarter kept the difference at one, as the Lady Lions pulled to within 59-58 by the end of the third.
The Lady Lions prevailed by the end of a back-and-forth fourth quarter. Borlie's layup at 8:09 gave Penn State Altoona its first lead since the beginning of the second quarter, and she scored another layup at 6:08 to tie the game 66-66. Strittmatter hit a three-pointer at 4:44 to even the score 69-69, and free throws from Christine and Cannistraci helped to keep the score tied, 74-74, with 2:38 left.
Stevens connected on a three-pointer at 2:14 to give Penn State Altoona a 77-74 lead, and two more foul shots from Christine kept her team up by three points, 79-76, at 1:45. D'Youville responded, however, using a layup by Hanna Wozniak and a free throw from Evans to knot the score, 79-79, with 55 seconds remaining.
The teams traded points in the next 31 seconds, as Cannistraci's layup gave Penn State Altoona a brief two-point lead before a pair of foul shots from D'Youville's Smith tied things up 81-81.
But Cannistraci scored the go-ahead basket with six seconds on the clock, making a layup that ultimately put her team on top for good. Penn State Altoona withstood a final offensive possession by D'Youville to escape with the close win.
"Our ability to execute our final offensive play with Lex receiving a back screen from Jess, and then to get a defensive stop on the other end, was wild," said Wilt. "I'm very proud of this group of ladies."
Penn State Altoona women's basketball will look to keep its winning streak alive this Wednesday, January 9, when the Lady Lions will host AMCC opponent Pitt-Greensburg for a 6:00 p.m. game in the Adler Arena.