UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - Alex Bentley was Penn State's offensive star Sunday with 24 points. Still, the senior guard had no qualms about giving credit for the team's 20th victory to the defense.
"We needed more energy on the defensive end and we just needed to get after it; that's when the game started to turn around," Bentley said of eighth-ranked Penn State overcoming a slow start to overwhelm No. 23 Michigan State, 71-56.
Maggie Lucas added 19 points as the Lady Lions (20-3, 10-1) won their 18th straight home game and built a two-game lead in the Big Ten Conference because second-place Purdue lost to Michigan on Sunday.
Sentinel photo by TIM SHUMAKER
Penn State’s Nikki Greene gets a shot over Michigan State’s Becca Mills Sunday evening at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park.
Nikki Greene had 13 points for Penn State, which closed the first half with a 21-7 run to take a five-point lead and opened the second half with another 21-7 run to build a 19-point margin.
Michigan State (18-6, 6-4) Annalise Pickrel scored 16 points for the Spartans and Jasmine Thomas and Jasmine Hines added eight apiece, but the Spartans scored just five second-chance points against Penn State despite outrebounding the Lady Lions 41-33.
Penn State's slow start coincided with Bentley's rough beginning - the senior guard didn't score until six minutes had elapsed.
"Coach challenged me to get to the lane and my posts helped me with screens and seals, so half of my points really go to them," Bentley said.
Bentley continued her assault on the Penn State record books by becoming only the fourth Penn State player to make 300 steals and the fourth player in the Big Ten to score 1,500 points, record 500 assists and have 300 steals in a career.
"She's pretty good; she's all right; I kind of like her," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said about Bentley. "I'm glad she's playing for me, playing for Penn State. I love coaching her."
It was just the third time this season that Michigan State yielded more than 70 points. Penn State scored 76 on the Spartans in a Jan. 6 victory at Michigan State (76-55). Sunday's victory marks the first time since 2003-04 season that Penn State swept the Spartans in regular season play.
Missed shots and turnovers by Penn State enabled Michigan State to jump out to a 20-11 lead until defensive pressure by Penn State sparked the Lady Lions' late first-half run.
"I was frustrated we did some things early that were effective (against Bentley) and we went away from them in the second half," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. "That's when she took off.
"We weren't focused, especially late when she hit a couple of fadeaways," Merchant said.
Things got considerably worse for the Spartans when they got off to a sloppy start to the second half, fueling a fast-break driven run by Penn State that widened Michigan State's deficit to 53-34.
"We're a better team than what we showed in the second half," Merchant said about giving up 39 points in the final 20 minutes while scoring just 29.
"We take pride in our defense and we want to make it tough on people to get good shots," Washington said. "I think we found some more energy late in the first half, played faster, moved the ball more, and that carried over into the second half."
Michigan State closed to within eight points with 3:44 left to play but Penn State regained control with five straight points from Greene, who also pulled down six rebounds despite playing with three fouls.
"We had a mental lapse," Bentley said about the Spartans' comeback attempt. "We just can't let that happen."
Penn State's consistent second-half defensive pressure forced Michigan State into committing 14 turnovers. The Lady Lions scored 29 points off the Spartans' 22 turnovers overall.