Hartford’s risk of keying on Penn State’s Maggie Lucas came with no reward on Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Lady Lions got points from 10 players and rebounds from 11 and pulled away from the pesky Hawks for a 70-56 victory in their final non-conference game of the season.
The senior point guard was held to seven field goals in 22 attempts but still managed a team-leading 18 points. Hartford’s defense knocked her down a few times but Lucas still was able to pick up Penn State’s offense with 10 second-half points as the Lady Lions steadily pulled away from the Hawks (3-10).
Penn State’s ninth victory in 12 games marked the fourth straight season the 15th-ranked Lady Lions have won at least nine non-conference games.
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Ariel Edwards scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds, just one behind Talia East’s eight, to support Lucas. Dara Taylor scored eight and Tori Waldner and Kaliyah Mitchell chipped in six points each in the balanced offensive attack.
“I just try and keep shooting,” said Lucas, who was 4 for 4 from the foul line in the first half but didn’t shoot a free throw in the second.
“Our focus was to take away the open threes and not foul her,” Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti said. “So she was 0 for 5 from three and 4 for 4 from the line and that’s about as good as we can do on a player like that.”
Rizzotti, a former star for Connecticut in the 1990s, was well aware that Lucas is not a one-woman show.
“We talked about focusing on her for 40 minutes but not to forget about the other four players out there,” she said. “She brings a lot to their team because whether or not she’s on or she’s off, she’s still going to have your best defender on her and she’s going to have a lot of attention.”
Lucas hitting the floor a few times got the attention of Penn State coach Coquese Washington.
“The rules emphasis seemed to not really be in play today,” Washington said. “They were pretty physical with her off the ball. I thought there was a lot of contact off the ball.
“To Maggie’s credit, I thought she just kept playing. She didn’t get fazed by it and she worked to get different shots and went to her pull-up a little bit more.”
Edwards pulled Penn State from an early 12-6 deficit with five straight points. She was one of a cast of Lady Lions to step up during a handful of game-changing moments throughout.
“I feel like it’s kind of what our team does,” Edwards said. “Anyone on our team has the ability to score points. It just happened that the first half I scored a lot of points and Maggie did in the second.”
Lady Lions Waldner, Taylor, Mitchell and Alex Harris scored in the opening moments of the second half to open a 47-35 lead.
“They got the double-digit lead and it’s hard to break into that against a really good team at home,” Rizzotti sad. “They were able to keep their distance from us because they got a couple baskets early in the second half.”
Hartford was unable to pull any closer than 10 and trailed by as many as 16 the rest of the way.
“I think the key was our defense,” Washington said. “We had a couple stretches where we played pretty good defense and got either turnovers or got them to miss shots. We were able to get out and convert on the other end whether it was in the half court or in transition.
“Basketball’s a game of runs and in order for us to get runs we have to get stops defensively. The second half I thought we had a couple spurts where we defended very well.”
A 47-30 bulge in rebounding, including a 15-6 edge on the offensive boards, powered Penn State.
“Rebounding has been a tough area for us all year,” Rizzotti said.
Notes: Hartford’s athletic director is Lancaster native Pat Meiser, who coached Penn State to a 92-52 record in six seasons from 1974-80 prior to Rene Portland’s tenure. … Hartford’s three victories have been from road games. … Penn State opens its Big Ten schedule at Iowa next Sunday and is at Illinois on Jan. 9 before its conference home opener Jan. 12 against Purdue. That game has been switched to a 3 p.m. start, school officials announced.