Sunday’s women’s basketball game wasn’t two minutes old before Penn State coach Coquese Washington looked down her bench and beckoned to Keke Sevellian.
Even though her team was off to a 6-2 lead against Rider, Washington didn’t like what she was seeing defensively, so she looked to her quickest defender to pick up the pace.
Sevillian helped do that and the Lady Lions were off and running.
Penn State raced to a 50-23 halftime lead and cruised to an 85-51 romp at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Lindsey Spann scored a career-high 23 points and Candice Agee added 19 points and nine rebounds for the Lady Lions (3-7), who shot a season-best 54 percent (36 of 67) and held Rider to 29 percent (19 of 65) from the field.
Sevillian also had a banner day. She had a career-high nine points, tied a career-high with four rebounds, had three steals, dished out four assists and tied a career-high by playing 27 minutes. Those numbers don’t include deflected passes and the pressure exerted on Rider ballhandlers that helped lead to 19 Broncos turnovers.
Washington, whose team had fallen 62-57 thanks to a poor first half at Hartford on Wednesday, said she pointed toward Sevillian so early simply because her team looked slow.
“I knew that they were smaller than us and starting the game they looked a little faster up-and-down the court, so we made that substitution” Washington said. “All season long, she’s been really dynamic for us with her on the ball defense and ball pressure. I though she was a good spark for us early and throughout the game getting some steals and deflections. She was giving us a lot of energy and getting our transition game going.”
By the time Sevellian subbed out eight minutes later, the Penn State lead had grown to 30-12. Spann enjoyed the pace, scoring 10 points in the first 10 minutes.
“That is the type of team we are trying to become,” said Sevillian, who made all three of her shots. “That’s our strength — we’re running, we’re fast. The transition we get is our key to success.”
“We were running in transition and getting a lot of easy buckets,” Spann added. “Our spacing was good and we were knocking down open shots.”
The lead continued to grow throughout the remainder of the half as Penn State kept the pedal mashed to the floorboard. Spann finished the half with 14 points to lead nine different Lady Lions who scored. Sierra Moore had five of her game-high seven assists in the half.
“It's funny because we knew that coming in — Penn State’s a very good transition team and they’ve always been a good transition team,” Rider coach Lynn Milligan said. “We know that their first option is to get the ball up the floor and obviously with Sierra and Lindsey, they did a fantastic job with that. ... Our transition defense was not up to standards in the first half.”
As fast as the pace was, Washington wasn’t satisfied.
“It’s getting there, but it's still too slow for me,” Washington said . “I would like it to be faster. I would like us to have 75-plus possessions a game. We’re getting there and we’re having more stretches of it, but I think we can play faster.”
The second half was a mere formality, though Rider did play better. The Broncos traded some baskets early, but never got closer than 22 points.
Agee, who at 6-foot-6 towered above the mostly 6-foot and smaller Broncos, had 12 of her points after the break. She finished 9 of 13 from the floor.
She was especially intimidating in the paint, swatting away five shots.
“We talked a lot in between these two games about our help defense,” said Agee, who has a team-leading 20 blocks. “I think it was a real focus point for us this game. We wanted to get our rotations and make sure that we rotated down. ... That allowed me to get some nice little blocks. We’re going to get better at it.”
Kaliyah Mitchell added 12 points and a game-high 10 rebounds for her first career double-double. Spann tied a career-high with five assists as the Lady Lions had 19 as a team.
Emily Fazzoni had 14 points and Jessie Wallace added 11 for the Broncos (2-7).
Both teams shot horribly from the foul line with Rider making 8 of 21 and Penn State sinking 12 of 23.
The Lady Lions have a week off for exams before hosting South Florida (7-3) on Dec. 21 at 2 p.m.