By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State has thrived at home in 2013, usually with a fast start and smothering defense within the first five or six minutes of the game. It was a different story on Sunday against Michigan State, the last team to beat the Lady Lions at home.
With under nine minutes to play in the first half, the Penn State was flirting with a 20 percent shooting clip from the field and couldn't do anything offensively against a Spartan team that held a nine point lead.
All of that changed at the 7:10 mark. After two Alex Bentley free throws to get Penn State within seven, Dara Taylor stole the inbound and found Maggie Lucas driving to the hoop. Lucas dished it to a cutting Nikki Greene for a layup to abruptly make it a five point game.
All of the sudden, the Lady Lion crowd of over 6,000 was the loudest it had been all game and was on their feet as Greene corralled an offensive rebound off a Bentley miss and converted it for two.
Then, a Bentley steal, one of 17 from Penn State on the night, brought the Penn State offense right down the court where Greene tallied another easy bucket in the paint to get her team within in one point.
In less than two minutes, Penn State went from struggling mightily to thriving in transition as Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant was forced to call a timeout.
The timeout didn't do much for Merchant's Spartans as they would only score five more points in the next 5:49 and Penn State would go on a 21-7 run to end the half, a run that started with the two free throws from Bentley.
It wasn't the offense though that turned the page for Penn State, it started with Taylor, Bentley and the defensive pressure of the now 20-win Lady Lions.
"We always feed off our defense," said Bentley. "That's really where it starts because we want to play fast and in order to play fast we have to get going on the defensive end. So we are in passing lanes and pressuring up. Dara [Taylor] had some really good steals and we just kept pressuring and running."
Out of the half, it was the same story. Penn State went duplicated their 21-7 run to start the second half, which made the difference in the end as Michigan State would head back to East Lansing victims of two losses to the No. 8 team in the country.
The pace changed for Penn State and it started in both halves with the defensive pressure. As the pressure increased, the Lady Lions played faster and more effectively.
"We were kind of muddling through on offense and I think we found some more energy late in the first half," said head coach Coquese Washington. "We played faster, moved the ball more and I think that carried over. In the second half, our defensive intensity got us some opportunities in transition."
Michigan State's 22 turnovers against the Nittany Lions is one shy of their season high in Big Ten play. The Lady Lions were credited with 17 steals on the night, four each coming from Taylor, Bentley and Mia Nickson. Merchant looked right at the turnover department when evaluating what hurt her team in the 71-56 loss.
"I thought we did some things that we normally don't do, and we've been pretty good at taking care of [the ball]," said Merchant. "I thought those led to some easy points for them."