BLACKSBURG, Va. – Junior Monet Tellier scored a game-high 18 points for Virginia Tech, however visiting Penn State had four players reach double figures en route to a 60-41 victory over the Hokies in non-conference action at Cassell Coliseum Wednesday night.
The Lady Lions, ranked 11th in the nation by the AP and 10th in the Coaches’ poll, improved to 8-2 with the win, while Tech dropped to 4-4 and saw its four-game home winning streak come to an end.
Despite the four players in double figures, led by Maggie Lucas with 17, Dara Taylor with 15 and Alex Bentley and Mia Nickson each with 10 – Nickson added 10 rebounds for a double-double – Penn State, who averaged almost 77 points a game coming in, was held to its lowest output in a victory in more than a year (at South Carolina, 55 points, Nov. 20, 2011).
“I told that team that I was really, really proud of the effort that went into this game,” Tech coach Dennis Wolff said. “I thought they did a terrific job with trying to stay with what our game plan was defensively.
“It’s really too bad. Particularly in the first half, I thought we took some really good open shots that we didn’t make that would have kept it a little bit tighter. And I think it is very difficult for this team, with how hard they are working on defense, if we can’t get some shots to go, because then it just seems you’re on defense the whole time.”
Tech scored the game’s first two baskets on a baseline jumper from freshman Lauren Evans and Tellier followed with jumper off the glass to give the Hokies an early 4-0 lead.
Penn State answered back with a 12-2 run over the next six minutes as four of their five starters scored in the run. Lucas, the team’s leading scorer at almost 23 per game, bookended the run with a pair of baskets to give the Lady Lions a 12-6 lead midway through the first half.
After a mini Tech run that brought them to within a basket at 14-12 on a layup by senior Alyssa Fenyn, the Lady Lions would answer each Tech basket with four points of their own increasing their lead to 26-17, as Lucas scored eight in the span.
“Lucas had 39 points in the last game, and when I watch the tape of that game, it appeared that they had no idea that she’s arguably the best shooter in the country,” Wolff explained as his reasoning of using a box-and-one or a triangle-and-two defense in the first half to slow down Penn State’s primary weapon.
“The goal was trying to limit her touches and the team did a good job of that. Still, look at her percentage (7 of 9 from the floor) and look at how quickly she got shots off, she’s a very good player.”
Cutting the deficit down to seven just before the half was Tellier, hitting a 15-footer just before the break. She then responded to Penn State’s opening basket of the second half with her own driving layup.
Tech was within eight after freshman Alex Kiss-Rusk, who had eight points on the night, hit one of her two 3-pointers with 16:18 left in the game. But, from that point until she hit her second with 5:09 left, the Hokies were shutout from the floor – missing 16 straight shots.
The only points in the 11-minute stretch were eight free throws from Tellier, and even after the second Kiss-Rusk three – that cut the Tech deficit to 49-37 – Penn State scored 11 unanswered to put the game out of reach.
“We had good shots and I thought we ran pretty good offense,” Wolff said. “I thought Monet played terrifically and I thought Alex kept taking the right shots, which in a game like this, her first game against a top-10 team like that, I was very proud of what she did.
“With us not having some of the players that we’ll have in a couple of weeks, we got tired and we didn’t rebound sometimes and as it got away from us in the second half, that hurt us.”
The game was the start of a five-game homestand for the Hokies, who will next get a visit from Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday, Dec. 16 before opening up ACC play against Wake Forest on Saturday, Dec. 22. Both tips are set for 2 p.m.
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