Lady Lions Win Lady Lion Classic with Win Over Middle Tennessee State

Story posted November 14, 2011 in Sports, CommRadio by Tom Zulewski

The Lady Lions (2-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) defeated the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) by a score of 65-49 in the championship game of the Lady Lion Classic Sunday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center.

The Lady Lions went on 19-0 run to close out the game and their defense held the Blue Raiders scoreless over the final 8:29 to mount a come-from-behind win.

“We were not a defensive team last year,” said sophomore forward Ariel Edwards, who scored 10 points off the bench. “Something that really wanted to focus on this season was to stop people from scoring because you can determine the outcome by stopping other people.”

This is the second straight game the Lady Lions have held an opponent scoreless down the stretch. Penn State head coach Coquese Washington attributes this success to their conditioning.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape to be honest,” said Washington. “When other teams tire out we’re still ready to go. We have lots of energy. Down the stretch of games, we’re in good shape and we can still play at a high level and have energy.”

The first half was a struggle for the Lady Lions. They couldn’t get any rhythm on offense and they just couldn’t find their shot, shooting a woeful 9-33 from the field and going 0-10 from three point range in the first half. The Lady Lions found themselves trailing at half 32-26.

Despite the first half struggles, the team was confident that it would regain its shooting touch come the second half.

“I knew it had a lot to do with our pace,” said sophomore guard Maggie Lucas, who scored 14 points and had five assists. “We were playing kind of slow in the first half. In the second half we turned it into another gear.

“We’re not going to shoot 0-20. If you miss 20, you hit your next 30.”

Senior guard Zhaque Gray, who scored 15 points and added six rebounds, echoed Lucas’ thoughts on the game.

“We always know that if even if we don’t get it in the first half we know that we always play well in the second half because we figure things out,” said Gray. “Our will to win is tremendous we don’t want to lose.”

The Blue Raiders proved to be a tough task for the Lady Lions. They established a 12-2 lead just three minutes into the game. Middle Tennessee pushed the lead back to nine points before the Lady Lions went on an 11-2 run to even the game at 21-21 with 6:27 left in the half.

Middle Tennessee, who are the defending Sun Belt Conference champions, have last year’s Sun Belt conference co-Player of the year in sophomore forward Ebony Rowe, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds in the game. But Blue Raiders head coach Rick Insell noted after the game that they gave a good team too many second chance opportunities.

“[It was] inexperience on our part,” said Insell. “We’re fairly young and Penn State is a good basketball team. They did what great teams need to do. Down those last 10 minutes they reached down and found another gear and by doing that it put pressure on our kids.”

This is the second straight game the Lady Lions have struggled in the first half, but Washington doesn’t see it as a problem.

“I’m very confident in our team and our abilities,” said Washington.  “They are very good at making adjustments. I’m only worried about what the score is at the end of the game.”

Lucas was selected as the Lady Lion Classic Tournament Most Valuable Player after averaging 18.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in two games. Additionally, senior guard Zhaque Gray and junior guard Alex Bentley were named to the Lady Lion Classic All-Tournament team.

The Lady Lions embark on a four game road trip this Thursday, when they take on the Delaware Blue Hens. Penn State returns to the Bryce Jordan Center on November 30th against North Carolina.

Tom Zulewski is a junior majoring in Print Journalism. To contact him, email trz5013@psu.edu.