No. 5 Aggies hit 8 of 12 free throws in final three minutes for victory

MALIBU, Calif. -- Having already played three seasons in the rugged Big 12, Danielle Gant doesn't get rattled much.

So when Texas A&M (No. 5 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) blew a 15-point lead late in the second half against Penn State, the senior exuded the calm the Aggies needed to hang on for a 61-57 victory Friday in the first round of the Timeout 4 HIV/AIDS Tournament.

Gant scored 14 points including two late free throws to help the Aggies (5-0) remain undefeated.

Brianne O'Rourke scored on a layup with under four minutes left to give Penn State its last lead at 54-53. Gant made 1-of-2 free throws to tie the game, part of the Aggies' 8-for-12 performance from the foul line down the stretch.

"We've been in this situation before," Gant said. "As a senior, I just told our team to calm down. We had a lot of time on the clock to get that lead again or stay in the game."

The Aggies will play host Pepperdine or Coppin State in the championship game on Saturday while the Lady Lions (3-2) play the loser in the consolation game.

Takia Starks, an All-Big 12 performer and the league tournament's outstanding player last season, led Texas A&M with 20 points.

The Aggies led 46-31 before committing a series of turnovers and missed shots that fueled Penn State's comeback. The Lady Lions forced five straight turnovers at one stage, leading to nine points and cutting Texas A&M's lead to 48-46.

Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair lamented his team's inability to take care of the ball.

"There's no excuse against a team that doesn't press and plays a zone," he said regarding his team's 22 turnovers. "We played OK, not great. We made a lot of defensive mistakes in the second half."

Tyra Grant scored 22 points, O'Rourke added 14 and Julia Trogele had 12 for Penn State. With Texas A&M leading 58-56, Grant had an opportunity to tie the game with 6.2 seconds left, but missed one of her two foul shots.

"I thought that our team fought and battled," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. "Texas A&M is one of the most athletic teams in the country."

The Aggies entered ranked first in the Big 12 in scoring defense, holding their first four opponents to 29.1 percent shooting and 48.8 points per game. But Penn State shot 50 percent in the second half and outrebounded Texas A&M 21-17 in the final 20 minutes.

Texas A&M outscored Penn State 14-5 to finish the first half for a 31-21 halftime lead.