Penn State Basketball

Penn State basketball: Lady Lions step on gas for victory over Fairleigh Dickinson

Forget the speed limit.

Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington wants the accelerator mashed to the floorboard.

That’s where Dara Taylor came in Sunday. Taylor, a reserve for the first six games, was in the starting lineup for the first time and the Maryland transfer delivered.

Taylor scored 15 points and dished out five assists as No. 6 Penn State revved up after a slow start to bury Fairleigh Dickinson 101-44 before 4,072 at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Maggie Lucas led five Lady Lions in double figures with 24 points. Ariel Edwards came off the bench to score 18 points, while Talia East (11 points) and freshman Candice Agee (eight points, nine rebounds) had career highs.

With her club coming off a 69-65 loss at Miami in which it had 29 turnovers, Washington decided to shake up her starting lineup. East started for an ailing Mia Nickson (who did not play), while Taylor replaced Edwards.

Taylor joined Alex Bentley to give the Lady Lions (6-1) two point guards on the floor at the tip.

“I want to us to play faster and Dara is certainly the fastest and speediest player on our team,” Washington explained. “I don’t think we’re playing fast enough, yet. I think we can play faster and push tempo even more. Dara gives us a great opportunity with her speed. The combination of her and Alex, that will give us a chance to play faster and to get a few more easy baskets with that combination of speed in the backcourt.”

It took about nine minutes for the new lineup to click, but once the Lady Lions got rolling Fairleigh Dickinson had no answer. The contest was tied at 10-10, but Penn State erupted on a 40-13 run to close out the half.

After missing her first two shots, Lucas made her next five, including four 3-pointers, in netting 16 points in the half. Taylor added 13 points, while Bentley distributed six of her game-high eight assists in the half.

Taylor said she saw no variance in her role Sunday.

“I’m out there for the tip. That’s about the only difference,” Taylor said. “I pretty much have to go out there and do the same thing. Nothing changes with me in the starting lineup. I still have got to play defense and push the ball.”

Taylor did look for her shot more, making 4 of 7 from the floor in the half.

“I got yelled at a couple times for not looking for my shot by somebody,” she said, looking toward Washington. “I’m trying to be more aggressive. I think just to help the team I have to be able to score and put the ball in the hoop.”

While his team was prepared for Lucas to score, Fairleigh Dickinson coach Pete Cinella said Taylor’s baskets hurt.

“She ended up making a few shots there and we had seen that she was a little bit off and were hoping that would continue,” Cinella said of Taylor. “Obviously, she stepped up and made some shots and then that really hurt the weakside defense.”

Not only did the Lady Lions play aggressive on Sunday, they also played smart. Penn State had 20 assists, while committing a season-low eight turnovers.

“Some of our turnovers so far this year haven’t necessarily been because of pressure,” Washington said. “It’s been decision making and trying to do a little bit too much — try to squeeze a pass in where we shouldn’t or over-dribbling and getting ourselves into trouble.”

Penn State kept up the pace in the second 20 minutes. Edwards had all 18 of her points in the half and appropriately Taylor made the fans roar with her basket to push the Lady Lions over the century mark.

Also impressive was Agee, the 6-foot-6 freshman who had eight points and six rebounds in the half.

“I feel like I’m getting better every day and I’ve put in extra work,” Agee said. “I’m fitting in a lot better. Every day is work, and every day I’m getting better and better. I’m enjoying it.”

“I’m just happy she’s getting in shape where she can play more minutes down the stretch,” Washington said of Agee. “That’s the biggest thing for her — her fitness level and getting used to the level and speed of play. ... You can see that she’s got a boatload of talent. She rebounds the ball. She’s strong down low. She can finish in the paint. I’m hoping to see her continue to get better every game.”

Lucas, who was 6-for-9 from 3-point range, said it was important for the Lady Lions to respond well from Thursday’s tough loss.

“We talk a lot about what our identity is going to be through the season, and it’s important that game-to-game we keep improving,” Lucas said. “We’re a different team than we were last year, and we’re going to get better day-to-day and game-to-game. That’s how we’re going — one game and one practice at a time.”

Nikki Greene added 10 points for the Lady Lions, who shot 49 percent (36 of 73). Danielle Pankey and Kelsey Cruz led the Knights with 15 and 13 points, respectively.

Penn State’s speed will get a huge test Thursday at No. 2 Connecticut. The Huskies eliminated the Lady Lions in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season with a 77-59 win.

Notes: Lucas moved past Lady Lion assistant coach Maren Walseth for 16th place on the school scoring list. The junior now has 1,344 points. ... Lucas has five 20-point games this season and 36 for her career. ... With two blocks, Greene is now tied with Rashana Barnes (189) for third place on the school career list. ... Penn State topped the century mark for the 47th time in program history. ... Washington expects Nickson to play Thursday.