Jan. 6, 2013
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Suzy Merchant knew Penn State would be a tough opponent Sunday afternoon. She just thought Michigan State would be a good team, too.
The Spartans struggled on offense and defense, shooting far below their averages and allowing nearly as many points in the second half as the nation's second-ranked scoring defense had been permitting in entire games.
Nikki Greene took full advantage in Penn State's 76-55 win, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. And the backcourt of Dara Taylor, Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas produced 43 points for the No. 9 Nittany Lions (12-2, 2-0 Big Ten).
"You've got to give them credit," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. "Dara Taylor hadn't been a good scorer, shooting 20 percent from the 3. Teams play triangle-and-two on them and don't guard her at all. But she came in here and knocked it down today."
Penn State was just as strong on defense, though the Spartans (13-2, 1-1) missed lots of open looks, shooting .293 from the field and .222 beyond the arc.
"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, including 3-for-4 long-range accuracy, in a career day.
"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 points all season. Jasmine Hines added 12 points, as her team had an 18-8 edge in offensive rebounds.
"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.
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.
"We need to stay more aggressive," said Michigan State's Klarissa Bell, who added eight points and nine rebounds. "The hard hedge out top made it a little more difficult. But we just need to knock down more shots."
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 midway through the second half and reached 26 in the final minutes, as the Nittany Lions snapped a four-game series losing streak.
"We just have to regroup and get ready for Illinois now," Bell said. "We've got to worry about ourselves, not whether we're ranked and all that nonsense."
- The loss snapped the Spartans' four-game winning streak vs. Penn State.
- Penn State was the first MSU opponent to surpass its season scoring average. The Nittany Lions led the Big Ten with 74.2 points per game entering the game.
- MSU has still held each of its opponent's leading scorer to below their scoring average. PSU's Maggie Lucas was second in the Big Ten with 21.2 points, but was held to 12 points on 2-for-7 shooting. Lucas also led the nation with a 54.2% 3-point field goal percentage, but went 1-for-4 today.
- Both of MSU's losses this season were against ranked opponents.
- The loss also snapped MSU's 11-game home winning streak.
- It was the first time in her career that the Spartans' lost when Jasmine Hines scored in double figures.
- Klarissa Bell has led MSU in rebounds in each of the last three games (10.3 per game).
- Becca Mills made a career-high three 3-pointers.
- Jasmine Thomas had a career-high five offensive rebounds.