Graves helps No. 4 Tennessee survive Penn State 74-66

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee's Bashaara Graves says she never realized she had a perfect shooting night going.

She was too busy making sure the fourth-ranked Lady Vols avoided getting upset by pesky Penn State.

Graves matched a career high with 24 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in her season debut, as Tennessee outlasted Penn State 74-66 on Wednesday night. The 6-foot-2 senior shot 8 of 8 from the floor and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line.

''I definitely didn't realize it,'' Graves said. ''My teammates were giving me great passes, and I was getting great looks off them. (When) we just play hard, you don't notice that type of stuff.''

Never before had a Lady Vol attempted this many shots in a game without missing a field-goal attempt or free throw. The closest was Sheila Frost, who was 9 of 9 on field-goal attempts and 2 of 2 on free throws in a 1987 victory over Oregon State.

''We probably wouldn't have had the result we had if she hadn't played the game she had,'' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.

Tennessee (2-0) earned its 24th straight home victory by surviving a game that had nine ties and 12 lead changes. The Lady Vols haven't lost at home since falling 75-71 to Kentucky on Feb. 16, 2014.

This latest victory didn't come easily.

Penn State (2-1) led early in the fourth quarter and stayed close all night even though leading scorer Brianna Banks played just two minutes before injuring her right ankle. Lady Lions coach Coquese Washington didn't have any immediate update on the severity of the Connecticut transfer's injury.

Even without Banks, Penn State hardly resembled a team coming off a 6-24 season. The Lady Lions had earned four straight NCAA Tournament bids before their 2014-15 struggles.

''They're the real deal,'' Warlick said. ''We didn't go into the game thinking it was a given win. We knew it would be a battle.''

Mercedes Russell added 14 points and 13 rebounds for Tennessee. Peyton Whitted had 17 points and 16 rebounds to lead Penn State (2-1). Her father, Kevin Whitted, played for the Tennessee men's team from 1992-95 and watched Wednesday's game from behind Penn State's bench.

''It was great just to come back (to Tennessee),'' Whitted said. ''My dad... he was excited for the game. It was just great all around.''

The Lady Vols pulled ahead for good with 4:55 remaining, breaking a 64-all tie on Diamond DeShields' putback. DeShields scored just four points and shot 2 of 11 in the North Carolina transfer's second game with Tennessee.

CAPITALIZING ON DEPTH

Tennessee had opened the season Sunday by beating Central Arkansas 102-47 despite playing only six people, as virtually half the roster was unavailable due to injuries and disciplinary matters. Warlick didn't specify Sunday which missing players were hurt and which were out for violating team rules.

The Lady Vols used 10 players Wednesday and needed the depth to survive a much tougher matchup. Graves was one of the players who didn't appear in the Central Arkansas game.

KEY STATS

Tennessee shot just 1 of 12 from 3-point range Wednesday after shooting 9 of 19 from beyond the arc in its opener. .... Tennessee was 23 of 29 and Penn State was just 7 of 13 on free throws.

TIP-INS

Penn State: Debbie Hawhee, who played on Tennessee's 1989 and 1991 national championship teams, now is a professor in Penn State's English department and a faculty partner for its women's basketball program.

Tennessee: Playing its first eight games at home this season before going to Wichita State on Dec. 11. Never before has Tennessee played more than six straight home games to open a season.

UP NEXT

Penn State: Hosts Central Connecticut State on Sunday.

Tennessee: Hosts No. 25 Syracuse on Friday.

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