UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State didn’t need a spark. The Lady Lions were going to defeat Lafayette regardless of what transpired in Sunday’s second half.
Penn State’s collection of frontcourt players represents a stark contrast to athletes the Leopards face in the Patriot League.
But the Lady Lions gladly accepted Candice Agee’s powerful second-half block. They will take the offense she provided, too.
Agee, the team’s lone freshman, showed glimpses of her vast potential in a 75-34 victory at the Bryce Jordan Center.
With senior center Nikki Greene leaving the court early in the second half, the 6-foot-6 Agee played a career-high 18 minutes. Agee blocked a shot for a third straight game, contributed to a balanced offense by scoring seven points and grabbed four rebounds.
The free throw Agee hit midway through the first half marked the first of a career loaded with big expectations. The former McDonald’s All-American then registered her first field goal with 6:15 left in the half, curling around Kelly Loughney and deftly placing a 6-footer off the glass.
“I think it’s a comfort level,” said Agee, who turned 18 in September. “Every game I play I’m getting more comfortable and more comfortable to the pace of the game. It’s just about growth. It’s my freshman year. It’s all about getting better.”
Penn State coach Coquese Washington has already observed growth from her ballyhooed prospect.
“With the various things we ask her to do, sometimes her head is still spinning,” said Washington, whose team improved to 3-0. “You can see every game she’s starting to get more and more comfortable and she’s got so many talents and so many gifts on both ends of the floor. As the year goes on, I think she’s going to have more and more of an impact for us when she’s on the floor.”
Greene didn’t play the final 18:40 after colliding with Lafayette’s Emily Hohman. Greene, who has started 102 games, injured her face upon hitting the floor. She was cleared to return, but Washington didn’t use her again for precautionary reasons.
There were also practical reasons for keeping Greene on the bench for so long. A 20-0 run helped Penn State open a 43-point lead. Lafayette (1-3) went more than eight minutes without scoring.
A deep, talented stable of frontcourt players flustered the Leopards, who were meeting the Lady Lions for the first time.
Agee and Greene are two of seven Penn State players who stand 6-foot-2 or taller. The Leopards have just two, and their leading scorer, 6-foot-7 junior center Danielle Fiacco, collected her second foul just 1:04 into the game. Penn State held Fiacco scoreless.
“The physicality of Penn State really affected her,” Lafayette coach Dianne Nolan said. “In our league, she’s not usually facing the size and bulk of those kind of inside players.”
The ninth-ranked Lady Lions improved to 20-0 all-time against Patriot League teams. All 10 players Penn State dressed scored at least three points. Nine players scored five or more points, led by Mia Nickson and Maggie Lucas, who each scored 12 points. Ariel Edwards and Alex Bentley added nine and eight points, respectively.
“Everybody can come in and make a huge impact for our team and that makes us very lucky down the line,” Lucas said. “Everybody comes in and does their job and learning each game to play their role better and better.”
The Lady Lions started the game on a 14-0 run and led 42-14 at halftime. Their defense forced 27 turnovers and they accumulated a 57-40 rebounding advantage.
Penn State opens the two-day Radisson Hotel Chatsworth Thanksgiving Tournament against Detroit on Friday in Northridge, Calif. Cal-State Northridge and South Alabama are also participating in the four-team event.
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter @cdtguy.