UNIVERSITY PARK The ball kept caroming off the Bryce Jordan Center rims, again and again on Sunday afternoon.
Not even one of the best shooters in the country —Penn State’s Maggie Lucas — could find the mark.
But a little bit of offense and a whole lot of defense proved just enough for the No. 11 Lady Lions who fought of a spirited effort from South Dakota State to notch a 60-50 win before 4,747 fans.
Center Nikki Greene scored 12 of her game-high 17 points in the second half, including six in a 7-0 run to open the half that gave the Lady Lions (9-2) the lead for good. Alex Bentley added 13 points for Penn State, which held the Jackrabbits to 32 percent shooting for the game.
“There just seemed to be a lid on the basket for both teams,” said Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington, whose team shot just 39 percent in the physical game. That’s part of basketball that just happens.”
The most surprising player to struggle was Lucas, who came into the contest averaging 22.1 points per game on 50 percent shooting from the field and 56 percent shooting from 3-point range. Lucas, who scored 39 points the last time she played at the Jordan Center, was 2 for 12 overall and 1 of 6 from 3-point range and finished with a season-low nine points.
“Maggie Lucas is human,” Washington said. “She misses shots sometimes. She didn’t shoot the ball well. I thought she got some great looks and she just didn’t knock them down.”
Lucas wasn’t alone. South Dakota State’s top scorer Megan Waytashek went 2 for 11 from the floor and scored six points, well below her 13.4 average.
“We just didn’t score enough points,” Jackrabbit coach Adam Johnston said. “I just don’t think we are going to win and hold Penn State to 49 points. We are going to have to score more than 50 to win.”
South Dakota State (6-5), an NCAA Tournament team from the Summit Conference for the past four seasons, gave the Lady Lions all they could handle for most of the game. The Jackrabbits led most of the first half before Penn State rallied to tie it at the break.
Greene, who sat out most of the first half even though she was not in foul trouble, got Penn State going with six points in the 7-0 run to start the half.
Both teams struggled for several minutes from there, but Penn State kept the lead.
“One of the things we talked about with our team was, ‘If both teams are struggling to score then if we’re ahead we win. If they don’t score and we don’t score, we win,’” Washington said. “When you’re struggling offensively, you can’t worry so much about making shots so much as you have to focus on stopping them making shots as well and turning up your defense. If you can do that you might be able to get some turnovers, some long outlets and some opportunities in transition.”
South Dakota State closed to within 36-33 at the 12-minute mark, but Lucas had five points, including a transition 3-pointer, in 12-2 run that pushed the lead back to 48-35 with 6 1/2 minutes to go. The Jackrabbits never got closer than the final margin as Ashley Eide sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Greene, not the primary offensive option for the Lady Lions, finished 7 of 11 in her 21 minutes on the floor.
“Going into halftime, Coquese pretty much said that post players have got to be more involved in the offense,” the 6-foot-4 senior said. “My whole focus the second half was to just do whatever I needed to do to contribute to the team, rebounding, go up strong, play with a dominant presence.”
“That type of post player is always a really tough matchup for us,” said Johnston, whose team knocked off No. 15 Nebraska earlier this season. “That is the one thing that we will never, ever be able to have at South Dakota State --- someone that can move like that and is strong like that.”
Penn State held the Jackrabbits under 30 percent shooting for most of the second half until a late flurry brought them up to 33 percent (8 for 24).
“I feel like it was a defensive test for us — the guards mostly,” said Bentley, who had a career-high nine rebounds and five assists. “The posts were doing their jobs, but for the guards it was a test for us to keep them in front and not let their guards penetrate as much. The second half we did a better job but we just have to keep getting better in practice.”
While struggling on offense, Lucas played solid defense on Waytashek and had a career-high four blocks and five steals. Mia Nickson added nine points. Reserves Candice Agee (four points), Ariel Edwards (four points) and Tori Waldner (three blocks) made impacts during key stretches of the game.
Eide led the Jackrabbits with 14 points.
Penn State has off until next Sunday when it faces the New Jersey Institute of Technology at 1:30 p.m., following an 11 a.m. clash between the Penn State men and New Hampshire.
Notes: Bentley reached a number of milestones on Sunday. With 1,474 career points, she moved past Katina Mack and Jess Strom on the PSU scoring list. She also became just the six player in school history to top 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 250 steals. ... Greene (810) moved past Amanda Brown to eighth on the career rebounding list. ... Lucas is now tied with Tyra Grant for third on the school list for 3-pointers attempted (531). ... Penn State has won its last 12 straight non-conference games. ... South Dakota State dropped to 7-8 against Big Ten teams.
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt