What a difference a strong first quarter makes.
The Lady Lions didn’t necessarily open their 68-51 win over Youngstown State on Tuesday night with more spark and energy than in past games, as head coach Coquese Washington has audibly hoped, but they played smarter than they’ve looked in a few weeks, minimized turnovers and executed their coach’s game plan.
Not a bad checklist.
I think the team is pretty confident, I don’t think the losses struck our confidence at all. I think it was a matter of us figuring out, making corrections on what we needed to do. I don’t think this is a win where the kids are jubilant or anything like that…I think we have a pretty confident bunch, and they’re kind of focused on getting back in the gym.
Head coach Coquese Washington
“I thought in the first quarter, we turned it up defensively,” said Washington. “And we took care of the ball...(as a result) we were able to get shots.”
They started man to man with a heavy emphasis on perimeter traps to combat the Penguins frequent three-point shooting. In many cases this season when faced with that defense, Youngstown State has been able to dish low to center Sarah Cash, who had led the team in scoring through an undefeated start until facing the Lady Lions.
Cash finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but on the perimeter, the Penguins made just four 3-pointers in 22 attempts.
“I thought we did a good job of limiting their 3-point shots,” said Washington. “That was the big thing we talked about (all week), is not letting them get going from the 3-point line.”
Washington switched Peyton Whitted and Candace Agee in and out in short bursts for a set of fresh legs to guard and agitate Cash, and it worked, initially. She had just two first-quarter points and got into foul trouble in the third and had to sit.
“I think she’s pretty talented, I don’t know if we confused her,” said Washington. “But I wanted to give her different looks, and Candace certainly posting up and making her defend kind of wore her down a little I think.”
Kaliyah Mitchell led Penn State with 16 points and 11 rebounds for her first double-double of the season, followed by Lindsey Spann’s 13 and two more teammates in double-digit scoring.
“It feels good just to get back in the swing of things,” said a grinning Mitchell postgame. “I know I’ve been off, but now it seems like I’ve really gotten in tune with the game and focused.”
Unlike their last few games, the Lady Lions shot well from the perimeter to open, with three 3-pointers in the first quarter as they went on a 17-2 run midway through the period to finish it with a 19-2 advantage.
Youngstown State went on a 6-0 run as Penn State missed five shots in a row to open the second period. Spann broke the drought with a layup, but rolled her ankle during a fast-break off a steal-to-assist by Keke Sevillian on the next possession.
Penn State hit its next four consecutive shots, while Youngstown State continued a drought from three for the first time all year. Spann came back in the game after walking out her ankle on the sideline and sank a three with about 15 seconds left in the half to push a 14-point lead, helped along by Youngstown State’s 12-shot dry streak from the perimeter in 13 attempts.
The Lady Lions came out in zone to open the second half, despite the effectiveness of their first-half man coverage that held the Penguins to 21 points. Washington said that was due to the seven first-half fouls the team accumulated, and she didn’t want to come out and commit more right away.
A slick and-1 play by Mitchell midway through the third quarter helped keep Penn State in a double-digit advantage, and from there, they went pass-heavy around the perimeter to take time off the clock, then dishing low to a rotation of Mitchell, Agee and freshman center Ashanti Thomas.
When the Penguins answered with a zone of their own, the Lady Lions switched back to man coverage and forced a shot clock violation.
Thomas got fooled badly by Cash late in the third period, who brought Youngstown State within eight with her 17th point of the night. Forward Brianna Banks answered with a baseline jumper, and then slid in a smooth finger-roll layup after a Youngstown State turnover to put the lead back into double digits.
The Lady Lions outscored the Penguins 14-10 in the fourth quarter to seal the win, which broke a four-game losing streak and handed Youngstown State its first loss of the season.
“I think the team is pretty confident, I don’t think the losses struck our confidence at all,” said Washington. “I think it was a matter of us figuring out, making corrections on what we needed to do. I don’t think this is a win where the kids are jubilant or anything like that…I think we have a pretty confident bunch, and they’re kind of focused on getting back in the gym.”