STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – A smiling Alex Bentley climbed atop the scorer's table and jumped to the Jordan Center floor as white confetti fell around her in a postgame celebration that hadn't been seen for eight seasons at Penn State.
The 11th-ranked Lady Lions gave their school something to cheer about on the basketball court following a tumultuous year on campus.
Nikki Greene had 25 points and 15 rebounds to lead three players with double-doubles and Penn State pounded No. 8 Ohio State on the boards in an 84-66 victory Monday night to clinch at least a share of its first Big Ten title since 2004.
Mia Nickson also had a double-double with 18 points and 15 boards. She and Greene combined for 25 points and 19 rebounds in the first half as Penn State (22-5, 11-3) built a 15-point lead at the break.
"It means a lot to me for Penn State to have this experience, especially this year and all that our university community has gone through," coach Coquese Washington said.
The title provided a sports highlight for a campus rocked by child sex-abuse charges against a retired assistant football coach in November. Longtime head football coach Joe Paterno was ousted in the ensuing scandal.
Washington said she was glad to give Happy Valley something to be proud about and remember.
"There's a lot of good here at Penn State, there's a lot of things right. And all year long we tried to be one of the shining examples of what 'Success with Honor means,'" said Washington, referring to a school motto. "I'm glad that our community is able to share this moment with us."
After such a dominating first half, the second half was a mere formality. The Buckeyes (23-4, 10-4) never got closer than 13 the rest of the way. Penn State also clinched the top seed in the conference tournament, which starts next week in Indianapolis.
Samantha Prahalis had 16 points and eight assists for Ohio State.
But Monday belonged to the Lady Lions, who dominated the Buckeyes on the boards, 60-32.
Penn State held a 29-8 advantage on the offensive glass, and outscored Ohio State 29-0 in second-chance points.
"This might be the worst we rebounded (in) my life," Buckeyes coach Jim Foster said, "and certainly the least competitive."
Maggie Lucas added 12 points and 10 rebounds, the first time that Penn State had three players with double-doubles since 2008.
Nickson said Penn State was just in the "right place at the right time." Sitting next to Greene and Nickson, Lucas was less diplomatic.
"And they're beasts inside," Lucas said. "I don't think it's just right place at the right time."
Their loyal fans celebrated in the stands, waving white pom-poms. Happy Valley hasn't celebrated a conference title in eight seasons, when Rene Portland coached Penn State. Current men's basketball coach Patrick Chambers applauded courtside, as did Paterno's successor, Bill O'Brien.
"We are ... Penn State," exclaimed the fans with 1 minute left and the Lady Lions leading by 18. The pep band then broke out into an impromptu rendition of the alma mater while Penn State brought the ball up one last time.
Off-court issues forced Portland out in 2007. Washington took over, needing five seasons to get the program back atop the Big Ten.
Bentley and Lucas, who combine to average nearly 25 points a game, often draw much of the attention. Bentley finished with 10 points, and she and Lucas used up much of their energy keeping up with the Buckeyes' high-scoring backcourt of Prahalis and Tayler Hill (16 points).
But it was Greene and Nickson who led the first-half charge against Ohio State.
"Tonight was a night for our post, and our guards were very pleased to sit back and watch them go to work," Washington said.
Greene had a double-double in the first half with 16 points and 10 boards. She showed a lethal combination of muscle and athleticism after grabbing offensive rebounds with 3:50 left in the first half, deftly stepping around a defender on the baseline on the second attempt for a layup and a 37-26 lead.
They didn't stop hustling in the second half even with a safe lead.
After missing a layup, Nickson tapped the loose ball to the backcourt, where Lucas picked it up and found Greene. She posted up for another easy bucket and a 74-54 lead with 6:19 left.
Kalpana Beach added 12 for Buckeyes, who also got held in check defensively. Save for Prahalis' typically quick moves through the lane, Ohio State never seemed to get in rhythm offensively and was held to 40 percent from the field. They were tops in conference in shooting entering the night at 47.7 percent.
"At some point in time you get embarrassed, at some point in time you get competitive," Foster said. "At some point in time you wake up to the challenge. And we did not."