UNIVERSITY PARK — Sometimes quantity is better than quality.
No. 10 Penn State shot better than No. 4 Notre Dame on Wednesday night, but thanks to 19 offensive rebounds and 22 Lady Lion turnovers, the Fighting Irish turned volume into a game-winning formula.
Notre Dame put up a whopping 73 shots, 19 more than Penn State as the Fighting Irish (7-0) cruised to a 77-67 victory against the Lady Lions in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge before 5,805 fans at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Irish defense also made things miserable for Maggie Lucas, who made just one shot from the floor and had seven points before fouling out late in the game.
Natalie Achonwa had 21 points and 10 rebounds to pace four Notre Dame players in double figures. Taya Reimer also had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Irish shot a season-low 37 percent (27 of 73) from the floor, but had a 20-12 edge in second chance points and got the Lady Lions in huge foul trouble in the first half as they built a 42-28 halftime lead.
“It killed us,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said of the Irish’s offensive rebounding edge. “It absolutely killed us. I think if we could cut that in half, then we probably have a chance. That’s one of the things they do very well. This wasn’t an aberration for them at all. They’re a very strong offensive rebounding team. They attack the glass.”
“They rebound the heck out of the ball,” Lady Lion point guard Dara Taylor added. “We got a couple offensive rebound opportunities, but they really crash the boards hard.”
Notre Dame made just one of its first 11 shots to start the game and trailed Penn State 13-7 early.
“I think there was a lot of adrenaline,” said Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride of Notre Dame’s sputtering start. “It was one of our first big road games and we just weren’t talking our normal shots. Once our defense got going and our transition started picking up, we started getting more to our game and getting back into the flow of things.”
Jewel Loyd had eight points in a 17-4 run that put the Irish in front for good at 24-17. Following two free throws from Talia East, the Irish went on another 12-2 run to push the score to 36-21 with five minutes left in the half. The margin was 14 at the break.
“We dug ourselves a pretty big hole in the first half,” said Ariel Edwards, who led the Lady Lions with 18 points. “That’s difficult to come back from when you play a Top 5 team in the nation, nearly impossible usually.”
Lucas got off only four shots and was held scoreless by McBride and Loyd. She also picked up three fouls in the half as did fellow starters East and Tori Waldner.
“I was really happy with the defense on Lucas,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “Obviously, the foul trouble helped our defense quite a bit. ... We were just face-guarding her and trying not to let her catch the ball and when she came off a screen we tried to double-team her. I thought that was pretty effective in the first half.”
Lucas, who entered the game averaging 22 points per game, went to the bench with four fouls with 14 minutes left and Penn State trailing 50-31.
But instead of rolling over with their leading scorer on the sidelines, the Lady Lions rallied. Led by Edwards, Taylor and East, Penn State closed within 10 point on four separate ocassions. Lucas’ only basket, a long 3-pointer over Loyd, cut the margin to 66-57 with 4:42 left. Two Edwards free throws made it 68-59 with 3:57 left, but the Lady Lions would get no closer.
While the Lady Lions did fall short, they gave Notre Dame its closest decision of the season and proved they could compete without the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year’s normal offense.
“One of our strengths this year is we have so many weapons,” Taylor said. “Maggie is great at what she does so we definitely take advantage of that. When teams really key in on her, the rest of us have to step up and be aggressive. We can’t be a one-person show. We’ve got to help her out. She can’t carry us throughout the whole season. I think in the second half we proved that when we made our run.”
Washington pointed to several of her players as being aggressive throughout the whole game.
“It wasn’t because Maggie was on the bench that they stepped up,” she said. “I thought they were playing that way the whole game. Maggie has a tremendous amount of confidence in her teammates and her teammates have a tremendous amount of confidence in themselves. Nobody was on the bench crying because Maggie was not in the game. We just went about our business of playing. We have a tremendous amount of confidence in anybody that they can execute. They just have to do it more consistently.”
Taylor (14) and East (a career-high 12) joined Edwards in double figures for the Lady Lions. East led the Lady Lions with eight rebounds.
Loyd had 17 points and McBride added 13 for the Irish.
The contest had the extra meaning of being the first meeting between McGraw and Washington, who played for and coached with McGraw at Notre Dame.
“I didn’t like it at all,” McGraw said of facing her good friend. “ It was a hard game that way. A couple of times we kind of broke for the timeout and happened to be looking in (the same) direction. That was just a tough game for me anyway. We’ll be talking tomorrow about the game.”
Washington, who dreaded the game, said she took the advice she gives her players — embrace the moment.
“It’s not often that all of the things that you’re passionate about get to come together at one time,” Washington explained. “I’m passionate about my Notre Dame family. I’m passionate about my Penn State family and I’’m passionate about the game of basketball. I got all three of them at one time. There’s no way for me to walk away from this game and not feel good about the blessing that I just had. Winning, losing doesn’t matter. I just had a tremendous experience that I don’t know if I’ll ever have again in my life. I enjoyed it.”
Notes: Notre Dame won for the first time against Penn State in six tries. ... Lucas’ seven points were one off her career low of six points set at Wisconsin in her freshman season. ... Notre Dame’s McBride and Madison Cable returned to the site of their finals high school games. Both played in the PIAA finals at the Jordan Center. ... Penn State plays at Georgetown at 2 p.m. on Sunday. ... Penn State is now 2-5 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt