When Nikki Greene is putting up big offensive numbers, it’s usually bad news for Penn State’s opposition.
The 6-foot-4 center certainly made life miserable for Ohio State on Friday. Greene scored 17 points, 10 in the second half as the top-seeded Lady Lions pulled away to a 76-66 victory over No. 9 Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Alex Bentley had 20 points and Maggie Lucas added 18 for the Lady Lions (25-4), who will face fourth-seeded Michigan State, a 62-46 winner over No.5 Michigan in Friday’s final game at the Sears Centre. Penn State and Michigan State will square off following Saturday’s 5 p.m. clash between Purdue and Nebraska.
Greene’s play in the post spearheaded Penn State’s play as the Lady Lions broke open a tie game early in the second half. She thoroughly dominated Ohio State center Ashley Adams, who had nine points in the first half. Adams did not have a basket over the final 16 1/2 minutes of the game. Adams, who played big minutes in the Buckeyes’ win over Minnesota in the opening round on Thursday, looked completely gassed by the end of Friday’s contest. Greene’s 17-point game was her second-best scoring effort in Big Ten play this season.
“I thought she was huge,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “Ashley Adams was giving us fits in the first half. One of the things we wanted to do in the second was make Adams work on the defensive end so she wouldn’t have as much energy on the offensive end. Nikki went right at her and made some fantastic moves. When Nikki is aggressive like that on offense it just opens things up for the rest of the team.”
While she plays on a team that emphasizes pushing the pace, Greene said the key to her big half was easing up on the accelerator.
“I think I was more patient, just reading the defense and whatever they gave me” said Greene, who was 5-for-7 from the floor in the second half. “I just kind of did what I needed to do.”
The Buckeyes (18-13) led for a good chunk of the first half before Penn State rallied behind Bentley’s 12 points to take a 33-31 halftime edge.
The contest was tied at 39-39 early in the second half before Bentley and Lucas keyed a 10-0 run that gave Penn State the lead for good. Bentley started the run with a drive to the basket, then kick the ball to Lucas for back-to-back 3-pointers.
Bentley had four assists and no turnovers in a sparkling floor game.
“I just really have such high regard for what she does,” Washington said of her senior point guard. “She had a very quiet 20 points tonight. She did a good job of distributing the basketball, getting us in sets and making us play fluidly.”
Bentley certainly had the Penn State offense clicking. The Lady Lions shot a blistering 63 percent (15 for 24) in the second half.
Penn State continued to pour it on, pushing its lead as high as 68-50 with about 5 1/2 minutes remaining.
But, Ohio State and standout Tayler Hill wouldn’t go down easy. Penn State was still ahead 73-59, when Hill nailed consecutive 3-pointers and was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer with 46 seconds left. With a chance to cut the Penn State lead to five, Hill made just 1 of 3 free throws and the Buckeyes did not score again.
“They’re certainly a team with a lot of pride,” Washington said. “Tayler Hill is a fantastic player.”
Hill, the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer, finished with 23 points, but had a miserable 7 for 21 night from the floor. Her misfires could be attributed to the stifling defense of Dara Taylor and Ariel Edwards, who presented different challenges for the Buckeye standout.
“We just wanted to make her take tough shots,” Washington said, of Hill who surpassed the 2,000-point mark for her career during the game “She got 21 shots of the 58 shots so you just hope you can make her take tough shots. I thought we did that. ... Dara is quick and is able to get to her and limit her touches. Ariel is a little long and is able to contest shots. Tayler Hill is such a dynamic scorer. She’s a tough guard.”
Taylor netted nine points and had two steals. Mia Nickson added eight points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Amber Stokes had 18 points and Adams notched 13 for the Buckeyes, who could miss the NCAA Tournament thanks to a 1-7 start in league play. Ohio State is a first round regional site in the tournament.
“Well, stranger things have happened,” Ohio State coach Jim Foster said of his team’s NCAA chances. “I don’t know. The committee, if you asked me today, ‘Are we one of the best 64 teams in the country right now?’ My response would be we certainly are. But there’s X number of automatic bids, and you can look at things in many different ways. So I don’t expect it, but you never know.”
Both Penn State and Michigan State know they’re headed to the NCAAs. The Lady Lions are looking for their third Big Ten crown, their first since 1996. Michigan State’s lone conference tournament title came in 2005.
The Lady Lions beat the Spartans 76-55 and 71-56 during the regular season.
“Michigan State is just a good physical defensive team,” Washington said.. “It’s going to be a challenge.”