SYRACUSE, N.Y. — For a two-minute span in the second half, Penn State’s offense clicked.
The Lady Lions (1-6) got the ball inside, redshirt freshman guard Lindsey Spann found her shooting stroke and there was finally space on the floor.
But the six-point spurt was too little and too late in Penn State’s 61-39 loss to No. 21 Syracuse (6-1) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at the Carrier Dome on Thursday night. The Orange made just seven-of-40 3-point attempts and shot 30 percent overall, but the Lady Lions turned the ball over 20 times as the Syracuse zone stuffed the paint and stifled PSU’s young guards.
“We have stretches where, offensively, it’s just tough,” said Penn State coach Coquese Washington, whose team dropped its sixth straight to fall to 1-6. “But I like where we’re going, where we’re going defensively in terms of being able to keep scores low.
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“And our offense will come.”
So far this season, the Lady Lions’ offense has been keyed by Spann and sophomore guard Sierra More. But the focus against the Orange was to get the ball in the middle of the zone and into the hands of junior center Candice Agee and senior forward Tori Waldner, who each held a size advantage over Syracuse’s talented but thin frontcourt.
It worked early, as Agee — who finished with eight points on 4-of-8 shooting — dropped in a lefty hook at the start of the game before faking out Briana Day on an up-and-under layup for the last points of the first half.
Then Waldner, who finished with four points and six rebounds, banked in a hook shot 1:32 into the second. But the Orange defense shifted and the comeback window tightened with the Lady Lions down 37-21.
“They closed it in a little bit, their zone,” Agee said. “It’s all about strategy so you can’t really knock them for that. They made their adjustments and we had to make ours.”
Penn State’s adjustments came in flashes, but not enough to get any closer than an arm’s length.
When the offense found its rhythm with just over 10 minutes left in the game, Washington said her team rebounded well and matched Syracuse’s pace up and down the floor. Yet even as Spann, who committed a team-high six turnovers, found her shot, the Lady Lions’ could only go as far as their post players would bring them.
Eighteen of Penn State’s 39 season-low points came in the paint, and just four came on the fastbreak in a game that was rarely played in the halfcourt.
“I didn’t think the tempo of the game was too much of an issue for us,” Spann said. “I just think our defensive intensity in certain situations was lacking. And that’s what got them as many points as they had, and we needed to keep that the whole game.”
But when Washington looked at what separated her team from the hosts, she pointed to Penn State’s youth and the decision-making attached to it.
With just over two minutes remaining and the Orange in its fullcourt press, Spann lobbed a pass across the court that was picked off by Syracuse’s Alexis Peterson and laid in at the other end.
It bumped the Orange’s lead to 19 points and was a microcosm of the Lady Lions’ night.
“With a young team sometimes they don’t see things quickly as you want them to or need to,” Washington said. “... At any given time we’re playing a freshman and four sophomores, and they’re still trying to find their identity.”
Penn State played close early, but the Orange closed the first half with an 18-4 run that gave them a 35-19 halftime lead.
Day led Syracuse with 15 points. Brianna Butler and Cornelia Fondren added 14 and 10 respectively.
Penn State returns to action at 2 p.m. Sunday against Wagner at the Bryce Jordan Center.