Michigan State guard Tori Janoska missed a shot, crashed the basket, and beat Penn State center Candace Agee out for a physical rebound.
Janoska is 5-foot-8. Agee is 6-foot-6.
That’s about how it went all night for the Lady Lions, who suffered their second Big Ten loss on Thursday night 71-55 at the hands of the No. 22/23 Spartans.
When you’ve got your leading scorers taking shots, and when your leading scorers are guards and they start off the game and they don’t shoot well, sometimes it can be deflating.
Penn State head coach Coquese Washington
It was a game that highlighted the physical differences in the two teams, not just by the rebound ratio, which favored Michigan State 50-35, but by key plays like Janoska’s board against Agee or Spartans guard Branndais Agee’s acrobatic, leaping stretch to keep a ball in-bounds in the first half, which she caught by the tips of her fingers and slung backwards into the hands of Janoska in transition.
The Spartans are averaging plus-15 rebounds on opponents this season, but in the eyes of Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant, Penn State actually had the size advantage this round. The difference, she said, was in the crash scheme she sent.
“I think we worked pretty hard to keep them off the boards as much as we could,” she said. “The one thing I do think is when they go to the board, they usually go with their (center and forwards). They don’t really crash their guards that much.
“Our guards are really pretty good defensive rebounding guards, to be honest with you. So naturally, if you don’t have guards that go rebound the ball on the offensive end, which most people don’t...It allows, if our bigs do their job, it allows (them) to get in there and get a rebound. So I think our guard play does a pretty good job of going in there and cleaning up on the defensive boards.”
The Spartans also scored 17 second-chance points off 16 offensive rebounds.
The lopsided rebounds were the first thing that stood out to Penn State head coach Coquese Washington when she looked down at the stat sheet in front of her as she sat in front of media postgame.
“I think they were just more aggressive and quicker to the ball,” she said. “They had some speed advantages at certain positions and were just a little bit more aggressive going to the ball than we were.”
And where sharp shooting and sleek basketball in general could’ve helped the Lady Lions against a bigger opponent, the team opened the game on 18 percent shooting and only one player, Brianna Banks, was in double digits by the middle of the third quarter.
The Lady Lions missed nine of 10 of their opening shots.
“I think, for the most part, they were shots that we took against Northwestern (and) shots that we took against Minnesota, and they didn’t fall tonight,” said Washington. “When you’ve got your leading scorers taking shots, and when your leading scorers are guards and they start off the game and they don’t shoot well, sometimes it can be deflating.”
Meanwhile, the Spartans cruised behind guards Aerial Powers and Janoska’s game-high 21 points apiece and combined 14 defensive boards (20 total combined).
Twice Banks tried to rally her teammates around her. The first came in the first half, when Penn State was in danger of being held under 20 points as the second quarter trickled away. Banks sank back-to-back 3-pointers, but the effort was quelled by the halftime buzzer.
The second time came late in the third quarter, when the Spartans opened up a 16-point lead. Banks climbed to double-digit scoring and Teniya Page lent 14 of her own through the period. Banks finished with 14, but the two received little complement from the rest of the team.
Washington paused a long while after the game when asked about a “third” statistically-good game in a row from the true freshman, who finished with a team-high 16 points, then offered that she felt Page still has a lot to learn despite the attractive numbers.
It’s no secret that Washington, a former star point guard herself, has lofty expectations for the rookie.
“Well, I think (Page) is a freshman point guard,” she said. “So when I talk about our execution being in spurts, some of that is how your point guard runs the team, what things they see, how they’re looking at it. There were times tonight when I thought she looked and played, at times tonight, like a freshman. But I know she’ll grow from that.”
Penn State players did not speak to media postgame.