For the first eight minutes of the game, it looked like No. 1-seeded Penn State was going to run No. 4-seeded Michigan State right off the floor in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, much like it had taken over Ohio State in the quarterfinals the night before.
Everything was clicking for the regular season Big Ten champions and it seemed like they were going to breeze into the finals, but offensive struggles crippled the Lady Lions and led to their ouster in a 54-46 loss to the Spartans.
They started the game shooting 4-for-5 from the floor and went on a 7-0 run capped by a Tori Waldner layup off of an inbound pass to establish a 16-5 lead.
That was at the 12:41 mark of the first half –– then things took a drastic turn for the worst.
The Lions (25-5) did not net another field goal the rest of the half and were well off of their pace of 73.5 points per game, a conference high. Yet, they still managed to nurse a two-point lead at halftime.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the shooting struggles continued in the second half and as a result, they were erased from the bracket in the semis for the second-straight season. The Spartans’ defense forced the Lions to shoot 22.4 percent from the field in the loss.
“They played good defense,” senior guard Alex Bentley told members of the media after the game, according to a transcript released by BigTen.org . “They tried to stop us from getting in the lane and forced us to go into the baseline, and we just couldn't get our offense going.”
Bentley finished the game with eight points in 36 minutes of action, while fellow guard Maggie Lucas notched a game-high 23 points accompanied by nine rebounds.
The loss was the second for the squad in the last four games and its 46 points were the lowest scored in a game since Feb. 4, 2010 when the Lions netted 44 in a loss to the Spartans.
Coach Coquese Washington noted that one of the reasons that her squad could not get going was because the Spartans owned the glass, thus dictating the flow of the game.
“One of the things [the Spartans] did do was they rebounded very well and we didn't rebound well at all during [the middle of the second half],” Washington said about her team being out rebounded by 14, according to a transcript posted on BigTen.org. “So when you can control the boards, you have a chance to control the pace. And the second half, they certainly were the aggressors on the backboard.”
With the loss in the back of their minds, the Lions will now turn their focus to the NCAA Tournament and look to make a deep run in the big dance. Their seeding is unknown at this point, but all of that will change after the Selection Show in one week.
“You can't look past it, you can't look past a loss,” Bentley said. “We take what we learned from this game and we learn from it. We get better and we use that to move forward.”