By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Preseason All-Big Ten guards Maggie Lucas and Alex Bentley are well known for their flashy offensive style of play, but on Sunday they showed how skilled they are on the defensive end in Penn State's, 72-61, win over Howard.
With just under five minutes to play, Penn State (1-0) found themselves down, 31-25, and needed something to kick-start their offense that had been sluggish in the first 15 minutes of play against the Bison (0-2).
It wasn't a Lucas three pointer or a flashy scoring play by Bentley, it was their active hands defensively that sparked the Lady Lions after a media timeout at the 3:49 mark.
"We wanted to get up and pressure, and try to create some turnovers, and get some easy baskets in transition," said head coach Coquese Washington about what was discussed in the timeout. "I think we finished the half with maybe nine or 10 stops in a row. That kind of gave us a spark going into the half."
After the timeout, Lucas and Bentley combined for five straight steals on five straight Lady Bison possessions, which resulted in a 13-0 run for Penn State. The pressure brought by Washington's squad prevented Howard from getting the ball across half court a single time during their last five possessions of the first half.
"Anytime you can get some turnovers, it gives you a chance to go out there in transition," said Washington. "We're pretty good when we can transition. I think that was a big confidence boost for us. It gave us some breathing room, and allowed us to start the second half with a little bit more confidence."
At the conclusion of the first half, Lucas and Bentley had a combined nine steals and center Nikki Greene added one, which produced 14 of the team's 39 first half points. Once the pressure was put on Howard, Penn State opened their offense in transition and quieted any hope of a Howard upset.
"I think we just picked up a lot harder on their ball handlers and we were able to pick up a few steals and that gave us some good momentum and were just happy we were able to get that done," said Lucas.
Prior to the Penn State run, Howard was sticking with the eighth ranked team in the country, but the change in defensive pressure put on Howard by Washington allowed the momentum to shift in favor of the Lady Lions.
"I think those last couple minutes of the first half hurt us and gave Penn State the momentum," said Howard head coach Nicki Geckeler.
That momentum carried over into the second half for Penn State, where they saw their lead swell to as many as 19 points with Lucas and Bentley leading the way. Mia Nickson, Greene and Dara Taylor all played well in the second half to help secure their first win of the 2012 season.
Washington played with a variety of players throughout the game, but her most notable group she put on the floor was when she featured four guards on the court at the same time.
"When we play with four guards we're definitely faster and more athletic defensively," said Washington. "We can do more things defensively in terms of matchups and switching. Playing four guards really gives us an advantage at times."
Offensively, Lucas and Bentley combined for 39 points and 10 steals. Nickson added 14 points and 10 rebounds while recording her 11th career double-double.
"I think I just took advantage of my opportunities," said Nickson. "When I got the ball I tried to make a positive play, whether it was passing or trying to finish lay-ups or things of that nature."
The Lady Lions will travel to College Station, Texas on Wednesday to face No. 15/12 Texas A&M before returning home against Lafayette on Sunday Nov. 18.