Penn State coach Coquese Washington admitted she wasn’t really sure what she was going to see from her team in Sunday afternoon’s exhibition game against Lock Haven.
With two new starters and six freshmen making their debut under the Bryce Jordan Center lights, there was an element of mystery.
“It was Christmas Day and I was opening gifts,” she said. “I had no idea what was going to be in that box.”
She left the Jordan Center relatively happy as the two-time defending champions doubled up Lock Haven 102-51.
Ariel Edwards had 21 points and Maggie Lucas added 19 as all 12 Lady Lions scored in the romp that wasn’t close after the opening minutes.
Penn State’s freshmen got their first chance to play before the fans and several showed glimpses of bright futures.
Georgia girls Kaliyah Mitchell had nine points and 10 rebounds, while Peyton Whitted added 11 points, all in the first half.
“It feels real,” said Mitchell, a 6-foot-2 small forward. “At first you’re a little nervous, just getting into the routine of college basketball and the pace of the game. But once you get out there and start playing, you get used to it.”
“It was a little nerve-racking at the beginning,” added Whitted, a 6-3 guard/forward. “But once we got out there and played a few minutes up and down, it was just regular. It was good.”
Washington’s club held the Division II Eagles to 23 percent shooting for the game, which was never in doubt after the Lady Lions rolled to a 53-25 halftime lead. The Lady Lions struggled shooting early, but made 56 percent of their shots in the second half to finish 47 percent (35-for-75) for the game. The much taller Lady Lions had a 59-36 edge in rebounds and nailed 28 of 34 free throws.
“I was very pleasantly surprised with their competitiveness, the way they shot the ball, the confidence that they played with and the hustle that they played with,” Washington said of the freshmen. “They all made contributions when they stepped on the floor. I’m feeling pretty good about the kind of depth we can have.”
Mitchell, a former post player, was the first player off the bench Sunday, and made an immediate impact with a block, several rebounds and two putback baskets.
“I feel like it was an honor,” Mitchell said of being the first freshman to play Sunday. “I was a little surprised. I went in there with my teammates’ help. ... Just getting the nerves out, I think it really helped me.”
Washington said Mitchell has been a “monster” in practice on the boards and has made a remarkable adjustment from playing with her back to basket in high school. Against Lock Haven, Mitchell grabbed rebounds and led several breaks by pushing the ball up the floor.
“She’s a really bright basketball player,” Washington said. “She picks up things very quickly. You tell her something once or twice and she’s got it. Then she can apply it right away in game situations.
“If you watch her play right now, you wouldn’t think six months ago she was a post player down in Georgia. She looks like a guard.”
Whitted was the second freshman off the bench and nailed a 3-pointer on her first field goal attempt.
Athletic forward Alex Harris grabbed seven rebounds. Forward Jenny DeGraaf and point guard Keke Sevillian had four points each. Center Infiniti Alston made both of her shots, the second putting Penn State at the century mark.
With many eyes focusing on the newcomers, Washington did have a new starting lineup.
Lucas and Dara Taylor were returning starters from last season and Edwards was a starter for part of the season.
Junior forward Tori Waldner and sophomore center Candice Agee, both of whom averaged less than 10 minutes per game last season, have moved into the starting post positions vacated by Nikki Greene and Mia Nickson.
“They played very well in practice and they’ve earned the start,” Washington said. “Both of them are playing with lot more confidence than they did last year. ... I just like the way they play together and I like the way they with the senior guards on our team.”
Edwards nailed 7 of 10 shots and was a perfect 7 for 7 from the foul line. Lucas had three 3-pointers and four assists, while Taylor added nine points and six assists.
Still, Washington said her team misses point guard Alex Bentley, a four-year starter who went on to help lead the Atlanta Dream to the WNBA finals this fall.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Washington, whose team opens the regular season Nov. 9 at home against Saint Francis. “We played a lot of different lineups so in some ways it’s hard to get a rhythm out there.
“We’ve got to get better at our chemistry on the court, finding a rhythm and understanding the flow of the game. We’re still adjusting to not having Alex’s voice on the floor.”
Marryssa Moyer led Lock Haven with 17 points and seven rebounds.