Lady Lions show off balance
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Nikki Greene wasn’t worried about Penn State’s offense against Michigan State’s second-ranked scoring defense.
When the Lady Lions scored nearly as many points in the second half as the Spartans had been allowing in entire games, her team’s focus on defense made perfect sense.
Green had 14 points and 10 rebounds in a 76-55 win Sunday afternoon. The backcourt of Dara Taylor, Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas also produced 43 points for No. 9 Penn State (12-2, 2-0 Big Ten).
“To be successful on the levels we want to be successful, we can’t rely on outscoring people,” Nittany Lions coach Coquese Washington said. “We have to be able to play both ends of the floor.”
Greene did exactly that, going 6-for-9 from the field and disrupting the Spartans’ offense with hard hedges away from the basket. Meanwhile, Taylor was 7-for-10 in scoring a game-high 18 points.
“We weren’t really worried about offense, just about limiting their shots,” Greene said. “And what Dara did was awesome. She showed her ability to score and play defense. We definitely took advantage of that.”
Becca Mills had 17 points, including three 3-point baskets, for Michigan State (13-2, 1-1), which hadn’t allowed more than 60 all season. Jasmine Hines added 12 points.
“It was a lot of little things today,” Mills said. “Our fight wasn’t there as much, and that showed.”
So did Penn State’s balance. It shot .518 from the field and .583 from long range, converting its chances inside and outside. Taylor was 3-4 beyond the arc.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Spartans coach Suzy Merchant said. “Dara Taylor hadn’t been a good scorer, shooting 20 percent from the 3. But she came in here and knocked it down today.”
The Nittany Lions dominated on defense, too, blocking seven shots and holding Michigan State to .293 accuracy from the field and .222 success from deep, showing the Spartans how their opponents had felt all season.
Penn State grabbed a 6-0 lead in the first 1:14, then blew a two-point game open with 11 straight points to go up 26-13. The Nittany Lions shot .462 from the field, .500 from 3-point range and 1.000 at the line in a 34-25 first half.
Michigan State had held its last 11 opponents to .205 accuracy from long range and 22.2 points less than their season scoring average. It did a good job on Lucas, as the nation’s top 3-point shooter was 0-for-3 from the field and held to just six free throws in the first half.
But the Spartans shot just .348 in that span and committed 12 turnovers. If not for Mills’ 12 points, the halftime margin might have doubled. Instead, only the final difference did.
“The biggest thing we wanted to do today was establish ourselves inside,” Washington said. “I thought early in the game with Mia Nickson and Nikki, we were able to do that. In some of the games in the past, we haven’t had enough balance between guards and posts.”
Lucas, who finished with 12 points, nine below her average, picked up her third foul in the opening seconds of the second half. But she delivered a baseline drive and a free throw for a 40-27 advantage. Two putbacks and a foul shot by Greene plus a layup by Nickson made it 47-29 and gave Penn State four players with nine points.
The lead grew to 23 with another 10-3 spurt midway through the second half and reached 26 in the final minutes, as the Nittany Lions snapped a four-game series losing streak.
“I think our conference is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in the nation top-to-bottom,” Washington said. “Every game is a battle. Michigan State is a really good defensive team. So to be able to come in here and have the success we had today, I’m really thrilled about that.”
PENN ST. (12-2): Taylor 7-10 1-1 18, Bentley 6-14 0-2 13, Nickson 3-7 0-0 6, Lucas 2-7 7-7 12, Greene 6-9 2-3 14, Agee 2-4 0-0 4, East 0-0 0-0 0, Edwards 2-4 0-0 6, Studevent 0-0 0-0 0, Waldner 1-1 1-3 3. Totals 29-56 11-16 76.
MICHIGAN ST. (13-2): Thomas 2-8 0-1 4, Pickrel 2-6 0-0 5, Bell 3-9 2-3 8, Schiffauer 1-6 0-0 2, Mills 5-16 4-6 17, Johnson 1-5 5-6 7, Hines 3-8 6-10 12. Totals 17-58 17-26 55.
Halftime-Penn St. 34-25. 3-Point Goals-Penn St. 7-12 (Taylor 3-4, Edwards 2-2, Bentley 1-2, Lucas 1-4), Michigan St. 4-18 (Mills 3-8, Pickrel 1-4, Johnson 0-1, Bell 0-2, Schiffauer 0-3). Fouled Out-East, Schiffauer. Rebounds-Penn St. 36 (Greene 10), Michigan St. 41 (Bell 9). Assists-Penn St. 13 (Taylor 4), Michigan St. 12 (Bell, Thomas 3). Total Fouls-Penn St. 21, Michigan St. 17. A-6,818.