Penn State literally gave away its chance to pull off a Big Ten women’s basketball upset on Saturday afternoon.
The Lady Lions turned the ball over an astronomical 38 times as they fell 71-51 against No. 24 Rutgers at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Penn State (3-13 overall, 0-5 Big Ten) outshot and outrebounded Rutgers for most of the game, but had nothing to show for it because of the giveaways against the Scarlet Knights’ pressing man-to-man defense. Rutgers (12-4, 3-2) put up 22 more shots than the Lady Lions and held a whopping 36-4 edge in points off of turnovers.
Four of Penn State’s starters had at least six turnovers. Point guard Lindsey Spann, who led the Lady Lions with 18 points, committed 11 turnovers. The turnovers were the most by a Penn State team since 32 against Louisville in December of 1991.
“The game was the turnovers,” Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said. “We outrebounded them (40-33). I thought we did a pretty good job in the zone and forcing them to take the shots that we wanted them to take. Thirty-eight turnovers, I think that’s a number that is probably insurmountable.
“It’s been an Achilles heel for us pretty much all season long,” added Washington, whose team entered the game averaging 21 per Big Ten game. “We’ve turned the ball over against teams that sat in a 2-3 zone for 40 minutes. ... It’s the speed in which you recognize things.”
Kahleah Copper led Rutgers with 23 points. Betnijah Laney and Tyler Scaife added 18 and 14, respectively.
But the player who did the most for the damage for Scarlet Knights scored just one point. Syessence Davis contributed to Penn State’s turnover total by making 10 of the Scarlet Knights’ 22 steals. She also had eight assists and did not commit a turnover in 35 minutes of action.
“She’s like your worst nightmare,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said of Davis, the team’s top defender. “She’s just relentless. She takes great pride in that. It doesn’t matter what the point total is. ... Without her I don’t know where we would be and if we would win. She makes things happen.”
The pressure from Davis and her mates made it difficult for Penn State to get the ball to center Candice Agee, who was effective in the paint. The 6-foot-6 Agee made 5 of 7 attempts and scored 10 points.
“We had to do that because they are obviously much bigger and they were going to pass it to the inside,” Stringer said. “It was important that we put a lot more pressure on the guards and looked to double down as much as we possibly could.”
Even with the avalanche of turnovers, Penn State remained within striking distance throughout the contest. A late rally, punctuated by Spann’s banked in 3-pointer at the buzzer, pulled the Lady Lions to within 35-29 at halftime.
Penn State drew to within four (39-35) on Sierra Moore’s coast-to-coast drive and layup early in the second half, but would get no closer. Scaife had eight points and Copper had four in a 14-2 run that pushed Rutgers’ lead to 53-37 with 12:41 remaining.
The Lady Lions struggled with even the simplest of things, like trying to get the ball inbounds against the Rutgers pressure.
“This is the first team that we’ve played this year that has really pressed us like that,” Washington. “Obviously, we didn’t handle it great. We didn’t have the kind of poise that we needed against it. ... When you’ve got kids out there who aren’t quite comfortable in that position yet, it looks like it.”
“They did a good job of pressuring the ball,” Agee said. “They are really athletic and they are a very good defensive team. It was kind of hard for us to find a rhythm.”
Still, Penn State hung around. Kaliyah Mitchell’s layup off a nice feed from Peyton Whitted had the Lady Lions within 55-45 with 8:58 left.
They were still within 12, but scored just two points over the final six minutes as Rutgers pulled away. Appropriately, the Scarlet Knights ended their scoring with a steal and layup by Copper with 46 seconds left.
Rutgers shot just 39 percent (28 of 71) against Penn State’s zone.
“I think our defense was fine,” Agee said. “There wasn’t anything wrong with our defense. Of course there are things that we need to fix on it, but they didn’t get all the shots that they wanted. ... When you give up that many turnovers and they have that many extra opportunities to score, that’s what will happen.”
And losing that way — the team’s sixth straight defeat — stung.
“It’s upsetting and disappointing,” Agee said. “We worked really hard the past couple of days preparing. The things that we focused on, I think we executed pretty well. We just lost sight of taking care of the ball and we let the defensive pressure get to us a little bit. It’s very disappointing.”
Washington said her players have a right to be angry.
“We expected to win,” she said. “We came into this game expecting to win and when you’re expectation is to win and you don’t, you’re not happy. So yeah, we are ticked off. We are disappointed. We feel like we let one slip away. We feel like we could have won this game and should have won this game.
“But, we didn’t earn it. We didn’t perform that way that we know we can and expected to perform and that is disappointing and frustrating.”