UNIVERSITY PARK - As coach Coquese Washington saw it, the Penn State women's basketball team didn't play its smartest all-around game defensively.
As a result, unheralded Maryland Eastern Shore was able to hang around longer than expected Sunday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Lady Lions used a 13-2 run over a five-minute stretch in the second half to help them pull away to a 76-51 victory over the Lady Hawks. Maggie Lucas scored 20 points, Nikki Greene had 13 and Alex Bentley added 11 for No. 17 Penn State (8-2), which has won two straight and improved to 5-0 at home.
Amber Cook had 12 points to lead Maryland Eastern Shore (2-5).
UMES, which was playing its first ranked opponent in over five years and its first Big Ten opponent in six seasons, grabbed a pair of early leads against the Lady Lions.
The Lady Hawks, who scored only 39 points in an overtime victory last month, went 7-of-13 from the field in the first seven minutes and were ahead by scores of 13-11 and 18-17.
"I thought we did a good job with scoring early," UMES coach Fred Batchelor said. "We've had problems scoring. So, it was good to get off to a good start. Like I told the kids, that's why you play the game. We're not suppose to be able to play with them. I thought the fact that we made shots helped us do that."
Another reason was the Lady Lions' effort on defense, particularly rebounding. UMES, largely undersized, had a 23-19 advantage in the first half and finished even with Penn State in that category at 46-46. The Lady Hawks dominated in offensive rebounds 22-11.
"I didn't think we had enough effort blocking out," Washington said. "We were going after the ball, but have to have a better effort to block out. A lot of it is perimeter players running in. So, we have to do a better job with that."
"The guards, we need to keep people from running in," Lucas added. "Our post players did their jobs well. It's the guards. We have to be more effective rebounders."
The Lady Lions grabbed the lead for good when Zhaque Gray's 3-pointer made it 20-18 with 12:19 left in the first half. Still, they led only 30-26 late in the first half before going ahead 40-30 at the intermission.
Penn State was up by 11 points with 16:11 remaining when it finally got the breathing room it needed. Greene's layup made it 50-37 and started the decisive run. It ended when Bentley's two free throws made it a 20-point game and Ariel Edwards' jumper gave the Lady Lions a 61-39 advantage with 10:49 left.
Maryland Eastern Shore got no closer than 19 points the rest of the way.
"In the second half, they came out and did a great job of spreading the floor and taking advantage of their size," Batchelor said. "It broke us down and wore us down, and they were taking high percentage shots in the paint. It got us in foul trouble and frustrated, and they were able to take advantage of that."
Five days after it held Virginia Tech scoreless over the final 13-plus minutes in a 38-point rout, the Lady Lions limited the Lady Hawks to only two baskets over the final 10 minutes.
"I thought we played better defensive in the second half than the first half, but not still how we want to play," Lucas said.
Washington said their was no magic formula for the team's recent late-game success on defense.
"It's all about their effort," she said. "The last two games, they've come out in the second half and played smart on defense, gambled less, and have just done a better job of being in tune to what we've got to do as a team. With our team, sometimes it takes them a little while to just kind of figure out what they need to do."
The Lady Lions won't play during the upcoming finals week and don't return to the court until they host Wagner next Sunday at 1 p.m. In the meantime, Washington said her team would have some specific areas to work during the time off.
"We've got to continue to get better defensively, and we've got to get better rebounding," she said. "We've got to be more consistent with our effort. We have to continue to get better at our decision making. We had too many turnovers tonight (16), and that's a sign of not making good decisions."
MD.-EASTERN SHORE (2-5): Mercer 1-9 0-0 2, Cook 4-12 4-6 12, Sanders 3-15 0-2 6, Roach 4-11 0-0 8, Stewart 2-7 4-4 8, Agbasi 4-10 0-0 8, Sweeney 0-0 0-0 0, Finney 2-6 0-0 5, Braxton 0-1 1-2 1, Long 0-1 1-2 1, Barr 0-3 0-0 0, Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-75 10-16 51.
PENN ST. (8-2): Gray 2-6 3-4 8, Bentley 4-7 3-4 11, Edwards 3-11 1-2 7, Lucas 6-14 5-6 20, Greene 6-6 1-3 13, East 0-1 2-2 2, Studevent 3-7 2-2 8, Wolfe 1-4 1-2 3, Waldner 2-2 0-2 4. Totals 27-58 18-27 76.
Halftime-Penn St. 40-30. 3-Point Goals-Md.-Eastern Shore 1-15 (Finney 1-5, Cook 0-1, Long 0-1, Sanders 0-1, Roach 0-2, Mercer 0-5), Penn St. 4-10 (Lucas 3-7, Gray 1-2, Edwards 0-1). Fouled Out-Agbasi. Rebounds-Md.-Eastern Shore 46 (Stewart 10), Penn St. 46 (Edwards, Waldner 9). Assists-Md.-Eastern Shore 8 (Mercer 3), Penn St. 18 (Bentley 9). Total Fouls-Md.-Eastern Shore 20, Penn St. 18. Technicals-Agbasi, Md.-Eastern Shore Bench. A-3,386.