It took the Lady Lions just under 18 minutes to take the lead on Sunday, but once they did, they never looked back.
A dominating second half that began with a 21-7 run allowed the Lady Lions (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten) to overcome a first half deficit to a 71-56 win over Michigan State (18-5, 6-4).
“How do we handle adversity that hits us in life? That’s what this is about,” Lady Lions head coach Coquese Washington said.
The Lady Lions shot 17.6 percent from the field in the first ten minutes and had just 13 points with 7:10 left in the first half.
“We were just playing too slow,” Washington said. “We weren’t running and pushing the ball up the floor when we had opportunitities. We were kind of muddling through.”
After Alex Bentley’s two free throws cut the Spartans’ lead to 20-13, the tide changed. Dara Taylor came up with a steal and a quick pass to Maggie Lucas, who assisted Nikki Greene’s easy lay-up.
Two minutes later, Taylor recorded another steal that gave Greene another easy lay-up to close out an 8-0 Penn State run that put the Lady Lions within one at 20-19.
“We always feed off our defense,” Bentley said. “That’s really where it starts because we want to play fast. In order to play fast, we really have to get it on the defensive end.”
The Lady Lions forced 22 turnovers and recorded 17 steals including four from Bentley, Taylor and Mia Nickson.
Five of those steals came at the end of the first half that helped the Lady Lions gain the lead. Down 25-23 with 3:40 to go, Bentley stole the ball and ran the length of the court and was fouled. She hit both free throws to tie the game. That was followed by a steal by Tori Walder and the Lady Lions took the lead and never gave it back.
The Lady Lions shot 56 percent in the second half compared to Michigan State’s 36 percent. Alex Bentley’s 24 points led the team while Maggie Lucas hit all three of her three-point attempts to finish with 19 points.
Penn State swept Michigan State for the first time since 2004 and has now won 20 games for the third straight season.
“I’m really happy for our seniors,” Washington said. “From where we were when they came in as freshman to where it is now, it’s them.”
Mia Nickson also scored in double figures for the Lady Lions with 13 points… Nikki Greene led the Lady Lions with six rebounds… Annalise Pickrel led Michigan State with 16 points… Courtney Schiffauer led Michigan State with 10 rebounds … The Spartans had 18 offensive rebounds.