Penn State players say they have been shooting extra free throws before and after practice.
After Wednesday’s 74-67 loss to Michigan State at the Bryce Jordan Center, Lady Lion coach Coquese Washington said they had better shoot more.
Penn State made just 10 of 20 foul shots for the game and went 6 for 14 after rallying from a 14-point deficit to tie the game at 57-57 with more 9 1/2 minutes left.
Those misses, along with several poor decisions and forced shots down the stretch, helped the Spartans (12-13 overall, 4-10 Big Ten) relegate the Lady Lions (6-19, 3-11) to the basement in the conference standings. Aerial Powers had 26 points and Tori Jankoska added 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for Michigan State. Lindsey Spann and Kaliyah Mitchell had 13 points for Penn State.
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Free throws continued to be a problem for the Lady Lions, who are now shooting just 64 percent for the season. That’s about 10 percentage points below where the team has been the previous five campaigns.
“They need to take more,” said Washington, who for the second consecutive home loss did not make players available after the game. “What we’re doing is not enough, so we need to do more.”
Foul shooting wasn’t the only thing that Washington was disappointed with on Thursday. Penn State failed to take advantage of several turnovers the defense forced over the stretch run. Often those possessions ended with a Lady Lion forcing up a shot on the break.
“We have to take some steps and strides in being able to close out games and playing with a little bit more of intelligence down the stretch of the game,” Washington said. “We’ve got to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that come — whether those are free throws, transition opportunities, layups or loose balls. I thought down the stretch Michigan State got a lot of loose balls and hustle plays.”
Penn State seemed to have all of the momentum after overcoming an 11-point halftime deficit, that grew as large as 48-34 early in the second half.
Candice Agee and Mitchell had four points and Keke Sevillian nailed a 3-pointer to cap a 13-2 run that tied the contest at 57-57 with 9:45 left. But, Penn State would miss three free throws and threw up three more awful shots as Michigan State scored the next eight points.
Even though its man-to-man and triangle-in-two defense would frustrate Michigan State from there, Penn State could never get closer than four points. The Spartans made just one field goal over the final five minutes and went 5 for 11 from the line. They worked the shot clock down on several occasions and got several second chances thanks to offensive rebounds from Jankoska. The 5-foot-8 sophomore also grabbed several Penn State misses.
“She’s just a little girl but she went in there among the trees and ripped down a couple of rebounds down the stretch,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said of Jankoska.
“We just kept being aggressive,” Powers said of the Spartans’ late play. “We got a couple of fouls and got to the foul line and that kind of opened it up. We just kept pushing.”
The Spartans were in control for most of the game thanks to a blistering start against a Penn State 2-3 zone that has held opponents to below 40 percent shooting this season. Michigan State made seven of its first eight shots and raced to a 17-5 lead. They led the entire half from there and were ahead 43-32 at the break against the Lady Lions, who had given up just 50 points in their last game against Purdue.
Merchant said the design was to force a wing defender to guard the 3-point shot and hit the spot behind her on the baseline.
“We weren’t going to go toe-to-toe with those big girls in there,” Merchant said. “That’s not how we’re built. ... We tried to extend a little bit more and attack the short corners. ... They don’t even have to move and they can cover you.
“Luckily those shots went down for us because they were open. They don’t always fall for Michigan State. It was nice to see us get off to a start like that.”
Many of those open shots went to sophomore Powers, who topped the 1,000-point mark for her career.
“Aerial is a tough one to stop,” Merchant said. “... She’s the most intense competitor I’ve ever had. She won’t take no for an answer.”
Penn State dropped to 1-13 for the season when trailing at the half. The Lady Lions made just one field goal — a basket by Jenny DeGraaf with six seconds left — over the final six minutes.
“I’m disappointed in the way that we played at the start to get down by so much,” Washington said. “At this point in the season, I want to see more consistency with our team. The way we played in the second half and the way we battled back, I want to see that for longer stretches.”
Spann added seven rebounds and seven assists, but went 5 for 19 from the floor. Sierra Moore had 10 points, six assists and four steals, while Agee notched 10 points off the bench.
Penn State hosts Minnesota at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Notes: Kennedy Johnson, sister of Penn State defensive lineman Austin Johnson, had eight points for the Spartans. ... Penn State dropped to 27-15 against Michigan State. ... Penn State was one assist shy of its season high of 20. ... The Lady Lions have blocked at least four shots in 11 consecutive games. ... Sevillian went 3 for 3 from the floor and is 6 for 6 over her last two games.