When opposing coaches look at the box score after playing the Penn State women’s basketball team, they often are surprised to find the big numbers next to Ariel Edwards’name.
Add Fordham’s Stephanie Gaitley to the list.
Edwards scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half and Maggie Lucas netted 23 as the No. 13 Lady Lions pulled away in a 78-61 triumph on Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Edwards added four rebounds and a team-high four assists and was key as Penn State (2-0) turned a 10-point lead into a 27-point blowout in the second half against Fordham (1-1).
“She just does a lot of little things that sometimes go unnoticed because Dara (Taylor) is so explosive and Maggie is such a threat,” Gaitley said. “When I looked at the stat sheet and saw that Edwards had 17, I’m like, ‘Where?’ She does it almost in a way that you don’t even see it.”
Edwards started slowly as the Lady Lions built a 38-28 halftime lead. The margin was still 10 points (52-42) with 13 minutes remaining until Lucas scored five points and Edwards scored on two drives to the basket in an 12-2 run to put Penn State ahead 64-46 with 8 1/2 minutes left. Edwards’ steal and layup pushed the run to 23-6 and the score to 75-48 with five minutes remaining.
“I felt like in the first half I was a little hesitant and indecisive in the things I was doing,” admitted Edwards. “I felt like in the second half I was more decisive and it seemed like I could get to the basket a little easier.”
In her first three seasons, Edwards provided a spark off the bench. But with three of her top four scorers gone from last year’s team, Penn State coach Coquese Washington needs Edwards to be an aggressive scorer to complement Lucas, the Big Ten’s reigning Player of the Year.
“She’s got to be aggressive,” Washington said. “We’re encouraging her to be aggressive and again that’s a different role for her. Last year she was in the role of fit in and let things come to her. This year, she’s got to be more aggressive and assertive. I was happy to see her step up and do that in the second half.”
“Last year I was coming off the bench and I just was trying to help any way I could,” said the 6-foot-3 Edwards, who is averaging 20 points on 70 percent shooting this season. “ I feel like I’m expected to give a little bit more and that’s something I need to do.”
Her play certainly impressed Gaitley on Sunday.
“She’s just that unsung hero for them,” said Gaitley, who has won 503 games in 27 years of college coaching. “She does a little bit of everything that obviously shows in the state, buit it’s not as obvious as those long-distance threes or the explosive drives. She’s definitely somebody that’s the glue.”
Penn State needed some glue, especially with its set offense. The Lady Lions, who played six freshmen, struggled with continuity throughout the contest.
The Lady Lions shot 40 percent for the game (27 of 67) and 37 percent in the second half (13 of 35).
Washington even shuffled her lineup to start the second half to try to find some cohesion.
“I’m still trying to find the five that play the best together,” she said. “We’re just so young and inexperienced that it’s going to depend who’s playing well on any given day. We’re going to have some growing pains. We’re going to have times where we look pretty incredible and we’re going to have other times where it’s pretty frustrating.”
“It’s getting better every day,” said Lucas, who was 4 of 6 from 3-point range. “Like we’ve said, we’re a new team so the chemistry is going to take a little while to build. We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year. Right now, we’re trying to get better every day.”
Taylor added 12 points and center Candice Agee tied a career-high with eight points. Penn State made 8 of 16 3-pointers and held a 48-37 edge on the boards.
Erin Rooney paced Fordham with 20 points and Samantha Clark added 10. The Rams shot 34 percent (20 of 59) for the game.
Penn State now has a week off before facing top-ranked and defending national champion Connecticut at noon Nov. 17 at the Jordan Center.
Unlike the veteran Huskies, Washington says her team is still finding its identity.
“I love the talent that we have,” she said. “I love their attitudes. I love the effort that they play with. It’s going to be a growing process and I’ve got to be patient as we go through it.”