Purdue coach Sharon Versyp vowed prior to Sunday’s game to play tight defense against Penn State’s Maggie Lucas and make the rest of the Lady Lions beat the Boilermakers.
The strategy, plus an excellent transition game, helped the No. 21 Boilermakers end a two-game skid and hand the two-time defending Big Ten champions their first conference home loss in two seasons with an 84-74 triumph at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Courtney Moses scored 25 points, drilling 6 of 10 3-point attempts, to lead Purdue (11-4 overall, 1-2 Big Ten). KK Houser added 18 as the Boilermakers turned back a Penn State rally.
Lucas paced No. 14 Penn State with 17 points, but was held 41/2 points below her average. The rest of the Lady Lion starters struggled, going a combined 17 for 50 from the floor.
“I was very, very satisfied to just make other people beat us,” said Versyp, whose team also held Lucas to 6 of 15 shooting. “They’re going to score down low a little bit. They shoot outside a little bit. They broke us down a little bit when we were playing the 2-3 zone, getting into the lane. That happened more in the end.”
“Our coaches put in an excellent game plan for today and we executed it very well,” Moses said.
The Lady Lions (11-4, 2-1) looked like they might make the Boilermakers pay for showing Lucas so much attention. Dara Taylor made her first three shots as Penn State took a 9-3 lead. After seven points from Lucas, the Lady Lions still led 16-10 with 131/2 minutes left in the half. But from there, Lucas would make just one more basket until the break.
“They were in zone and they were shading really hard on my side,” said Lucas, who was 3 for 8 in the half. “It was almost like a box-and-one.”
From there until halftime, Purdue’s transition game took control. The Boilermakers consistently ended up with numbers in their favor and got open shots. Moses’ 3-pointer gave Purdue the lead for good at 24-22 with 81/2 minutes left in the half. Thanks to a 10-2 spurt over the final 31/2 minutes, Purdue led 46-37 at the break.
“That’s what we do the best,” Versyp said of the transition game. “If we can rebound the ball, we can push the ball.”
“Coming into the game, we knew that was a strength of their team,” Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “We just did not do a good enough job getting back.”
Moses sank three 3-pointers in the first 61/2 minutes of the second half to push the margin to 58-43.
“We had some miscues on defense, quite a few,” Washington said. “To their credit, they took advantage of them.”
The Lady Lions battled back, fueled by the inside play of Talia East. The senior had seven points during a 17-5 run that brought Penn State to within 68-66 with seven minutes remaining. The Lady Lions had one possession with a chance to tie the game, but Ariel Edwards missed a baseline jumper.
Purdue converted on Whitney Bays’ transition basket after the Edwards’ miss and Penn State would not get closer than four points down the stretch. The Lady Lions made just three field goals over the final 81/2 minutes.
“I don't think we ran out of gas,” East said. “I think they got a couple of shots down the stretch that I think we should have defended better. It just got away from us.”
“I though we had a stretch there in the second half of about six or seven minutes when we played pretty well,” Washington said. “But outside of that, I don’t think we played very well at either end of the floor.”
East helped make up for some of the defensive woes by tying a career high with seven blocks. The Lady Lions tied a school mark with 14 rejections.
However, Washington said the high number of blocks actually showed a weakness on defense.
“The problem is that they're getting a lot of their blocked shots on dribble penetration or second chance offensive opportunities and offensive rebounds,” she said. “I would like to see them getting less blocks if that means we're doing a better job containing the ball and we're not giving up offensive rebounds.”
Liza Clemons added 12 points for the Boilermakers, who converted 24 free throws — 11 more than Penn State. Bays grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.
“There was just a different feel,” said Versyp, whose club was in danger of falling three games behind in the conference race. “You could tell. The players felt it. We felt it. Now, this needs to be our springboard.”
Taylor had 13 points and six assists, but cooled off after her opening volley. Edwards added 12 points, but went 4 for 18 from the floor. East had nine points and 10 rebounds, while Tori Waldner added eight points and eight boards.
The Lady Lions will look to rebound Thursday against Ohio State (12-7, 2-1) at the Jordan Center.
“I hope we respond well,” Washington said. “The thing about it is that it’s early in the Big Ten season. We’ve just got to regroup and get ready for Ohio State. They’re playing good basketball right now. We’ve certainly got to defend better than we did today.”