Jayhawks record their first loss of the season against an improved Penn State

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas guard Holly Kersgieter lines up a 3-pointer against Northwestern State Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Lawrence.

Kansas dropped its first road game of the young season, falling 91-85 against Penn State in Happy Valley after a late comeback fell short. In the Jayhawks’ first major test of the year, they fell into prolonged scoring droughts and saw two of their key starters get into foul trouble late.

Holly Kersgieter led the Jayhawks with 24 points, while Taiyanna Jackson racked up 18 points and eight rebounds, nearly notching her second double-double in two games despite missing the majority of the second half.

After setting a record for most 3-pointers in a game in their season opener last week, the Jayhawks stayed hot from behind the arc. They got out to an early 8-2 lead without help from the 3, before falling into a scoring drought of over three minutes. From there, competition in the first quarter remained tight, as Kansas forced a few turnovers and played strong under the basket. Kersgieter ended an impressive quarter with a three-pointer to make it 23-22.

The second quarter started out closely matched until the Nittany Lions went on a 10-2 run to sink Kansas into a 38-30 deficit. After starting off strong from beyond the arc, the Jayhawks didn’t make a single triple in the second quarter.

Only Zakiyah Franklin, Jackson, and Kersgieter had field goals in the second, as the Jayhawks’ scoring woes led them to a 51-39 deficit by the end of the half.

Jackson started off 7-for-7 from the floor, as she and Kersgieter led the Jayhawks in scoring with 14 and 12 points at the half, respectively.

On the Penn State side, Makenna Marisa had Kansas’ number, scoring 16 points in the first half en route to matching a career high with 34 points in the game.

The Jayhawks had previously trailed in the game by up to 14 points but came out hot after halftime to trim their deficit to five points. Kersgieter then hit two 3s separated by a fast-break layup to bring the Jayhawks within two points at 53-51 and capped an 8-0 Kansas run with her fourth 3 of the day.

The Jayhawks and Nittany Lions entered a scoring drought halfway into the third quarter, as S’Mya Nichols drained her first 3-pointer of the night to get Kansas back within three points. From there the two teams went back and forth, with mainly Franklin and Marisa contributing to the score, and Marisa scoring 12 out of Penn State’s 15 points in the quarter.

With less than a minute left in the third quarter, star center Jackson was called for her fourth foul of the game, a detrimental loss for Kansas as it fought to erase a seven-point deficit entering the fourth. With Jackson off the court, the Jayhawks had to change their game plan, while Penn State was able to begin to dominate the post position.

Their hot start in the second half was not sustainable, as the Jayhawks quickly fell into a larger hole as the fourth progressed. Jackson was able to return and provide a spark on the floor, while Nichols continued to fight even as the game fell out of reach. Two free throws from Nichols brought the difference to single digits as Kansas trailed 80-71.

An interesting sequence happened as Jackson scored an impressive layup, but fell over a Penn State defender and failed to get up. She lay on the floor for the entire Nittany Lions possession, as they took the five-on-four opportunity to cash in a 3 and make it 85-75. Jackson went to the bench for a few possessions before coming back on with a little over two minutes left in the game.

Marisa’s final point of the game buried the Jayhawks in a 12-point deficit that they were ultimately unable to overcome. Even though they continued to fight and went on a 7-1 run to end the game, their deficit was too large.

After a disappointing loss in nonconference play, the Jayhawks’ next game is against Kansas City at the Municipal Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 3:15 p.m., before they travel to the Cayman Islands to take on No. 8 UConn and No. 9 Virginia Tech.


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