UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State had Talia East and Maggie Lucas, so despite falling behind early and facing the prospect of a loss to a lower-seeded team in the NCAA women's tournament for the second year in a row, the sense that things would get better lingered.
"They play with poise," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. ..."I was confident that they would make the necessary plays to put us back in the position where we could get the win."
It was Lucas who played her usual commanding game, scoring 22 points and riling up the team with her emotion. It was East who scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half, few of them as vital as two baskets in the final two minutes. No. 3 Penn State defeated No. 14 Wichita State, 62-56, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Penn State (24-7) will face No. 11 Florida (20-12) at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
The game wasn't out of reach for Wichita State until the final few seconds. In fact, the Shockers nearly had the ball with 59 seconds left down by two points. Lucas had missed a 3-pointer, and the ball appeared to be out of bounds off of Penn State. But the officials didn't have a clear call and instead awarded the ball to Penn State because it had possession.
With the score 58-56, East grabbed an offensive rebound after a Dara Taylor miss and scored. About a minute earlier, East had scored to put Penn State up, 58-54.
"Talia played a great game," forward Ariel Edwards said. "It's great to know you can throw it in and get a good result."
The first half for Penn State appeared to be a continuation of its first-round loss in the Big Ten Conference tournament. Its defense was leaky, and Wichita State went on a 12-0 run in a stretch in which Penn State went a little more than eight minutes without scoring.
"It's the NCAA tournament," East said. "People don't make as many shots as usual. You get the jitters."
That was part of the problem. The other stemmed from the defense. With Wichita State scoring and not turning the ball over, Penn State was unable to utilize its transition offense.
The Lady Lions turned it around at the beginning of the second half. They held Wichita State scoreless for nearly the first eight minutes, allowing them to run, and they went on a 17-0 run.
"I actually thought in the first half we were not aggressive enough defensively," Washington said. "We were not on the ball as intensely as we wanted to be. I think in the second half, especially at the start of the second half, we were a lot more aggressive. We were a lot more active on the ball."
Penn State's next opponent, Florida, defeated No. 6 Dayton Sunday, 83-69. It will be a relatively familiar matchup. A year ago, Penn State played a lower-ranked Southeastern Conference opponent in the second round and lost.
"Our focus all along has been that the NCAA tournament is tough," Washington said. "The games are tough and every round gets tougher. You have to be ready for battles. You have to be prepared. Seeding does not matter. Where you play does not matter. You just have to understand that it is going to be tough. That is the mentality that we have."
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.