The final exams in the classroom were over but the Lady Lions had to pass one more test on the court.
Penn State routed New Jersey Institute of Technology 82-37 in the last nonconference game of the season.
The outcome was never in doubt.
Maggie Lucas made sure of that when she made her first 3-pointer immediately after tipoff. Her 5 of 8 performance from behind the arc followed a 1 of 6 shooting effort from long range in the last game with South Dakota State.
“It was just an off day,” she said.
Lucas made three of her first five behind-the-arc attempts in under eight minutes and finished with a team-high 21 points. She had more points at halftime (10) than the Highlanders, who trailed 44-9 at the break.
The NJIT total for the opening 20 minutes was the lowest opponent output since Penn State held Rider to seven points in November 2010.
Penn State rushed out to a 14-2 lead in the first five minutes. A two from NJIT’s Kimberly Dweck was all the offense the Highlanders could muster.
Penn State’s defense posed all kinds of problems for NJIT.
“Obviously I think we got a little bit overwhelmed,” NJIT coach Jeff Lanpher said. “Not to take anything away from Penn State, obviously they are a very, very talented and well-coached team, but I thought we were a little shell-shocked early.”
Alex Bentley was a big part of that defensive barrage with six steals in the first half.
“Honestly, my teammates helped me out,” Bentley said, adding that pressure from others put her in a position to steal a number of cross-court attempts. Bentley had a season-high eight thefts.
Penn State’s defense also held NJIT leading scorer Rayven Johnson to four points, 14 under her average.
“I didn’t realize she only had four,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said. “One of the things that we try to do is make it tough for the other team’s best player to get looks where they want to and get rhythm shots.”
Johnson was 2-for-16 from the field.
Johnson had scored 23 points in the Highlanders’ last game at Virginia Commonwealth.
“I think Mia (Nickson) and Ariel (Edwards) had the task the majority of the game, but also Nikki guarded her a little bit,” Washington said. “We put a lot of different people on her.”
Four Lady Lions reached double figure in scoring. Nikki Greene had 12 points and Bentley and Edwards had 10 apiece, joining Lucas as offensive leaders. Candice Agee, who played just 12 minutes, was the high scorer off the bench with eight points. Every Lady Lion had an impact on the scoring total.
“Oh, it’s awesome,” Washington said of her team’s shared scoring. “I thought we did a good job today of playing an inside-out game. It wasn’t too heavily dominated one way of the other. I think we’re at our best when we can play that way, getting contributions from both posts and guards on the offensive end.”
Finishing the semester by guiding her team to its 10th win against two losses, Washington wasn’t about to give top marks to the Lady Lion performance against the Highlanders (6-7).
“To get an A or an A-plus, we’ve got to be a little bit more consistent for the whole 40 minutes,” she said. “There was a stretch in the second half when we didn’t score the ball. It seemed like we got stuck on 62 or 63 for a long time.”
Penn State lingered at 63 points after the first six minutes of the second half until a jumper in the paint by Talia East ended the mini drought. The offense sputtered for another five minutes before finally inching to a 69-27 advantage. A layup by Edwards brought a roar from the crowd as the Lady Lions reached 70 points resulting in free McNuggets from McDonald’s in a promotion for game ticket holders. Penn State has passed that 70-point mark five times at home this season.
A 10-day break lies ahead for the Lady Lions, who return to action Jan. 3 in their Big Ten Conference opener with Northwestern.
Notes: Penn State remained undefeated at home and has a 13-game home court win streak. ... The Lady Lions reached double digits in non-conference wins for their third straight season. ... Penn State honored Agee for being a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. Under 18 team. ... Bald Eagle Area High School musicians filled in for the Blue Band and the Penn State cheerleaders. ... The arena camera found Academy Award winner Jon Voight in the audience during the game.