Lady Lions Top Illinois Despite Slow Start
The Penn State Lady Lions defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 62-48 on Saturday.
Penn State trailed early in a defensive game, largely due to some spotty shot selection by the Lady Lions. Penn State went 2 of 12 from the field in the first quarter, frequently settling for jumpers. When the Lady Lions elected to attack the paint, errant passes into the lane often resulted in turnovers.
The Fighting Illini’s offense clicked in the first quarter, led by senior forward Alex Wittinger who made her first four field goal attempts.
The defense was able to hold down the fort just long enough for the offense to sort itself out. The Illini started out shooting well, but soon would cool off significantly.
“It started with our defense. I felt like [Illinois] got a little too comfortable early in the game offensively, so we cranked it up a little bit defensively," Penn State head coach Coquese Washington said. "I thought early in the game we were getting good shots that just didn’t fall down, but we made a concerted effort in the second half to look for and try and get better shots."
Penn State would make a furious 10-0 run over the last three minutes of the second quarter to take a 26-25 lead at the half.
The Lady Lions didn’t give up on attacking the paint, and their aggressiveness was key to taking the halftime advantage. Penn State made all nine of its free throw attempts, compared to Illinois who made only three of their four first half attempts.
While turnovers contributed to Penn State’s early offensive struggles, ball security plagued Illinois much more in the second half. With just under three minutes left in the third quarter, the Fighting Illini had racked up 15 turnovers.
Another turnover would continue to hinder Illinois, after a pass would be picked off by senior guard Teniya Page and taken all the way to the hole for a layup. Poor decision making with the ball can often prove to be costly, and the Fighting Illini sure left a few baskets on the board, especially considering the big baskets they were able to make late.
Illinois would lean heavily on Wittinger for the duration of the game, as she scored 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting.
Arieal Scott made three 3-pointers and was the only other member of the fighting Illini to score double digits.
Penn State would simply catch fire and stay too hot for Illinois to stay in the game, with two seperate 7-0 runs in the latter portion of the fourth quarter. The Lady Lions controlled the second half with consistent shooting and timely steals.
Penn State had a well-rounded offensive effort after settling in, with three players scoring double digits. Sophomore forward Alisia Smith posted a double-double, scoring 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and pulling down 11 rebounds. Page scored 13 points and had seven assists on the afternoon.
Penn State had its Senior Day celebration, with special appreciation shown towards senior guard Sarah McMurtry, who made the Division I team as a walk-on after starting her Penn State basketball career on the club team. McMurtry dribbled out the final seconds of the game after entering late in the fourth quarter.
The Lady Lions return to the court in the Bryce Jordan Center on Jan. 17 against Ohio State.
Jeremy Ganes is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.