Flaherty, Thome lead Wolverines past Nittany Lions
Everyone at Crisler Center on Thursday night felt a moment of anxiousness midway through the game’s second quarter. Junior guard Nicole Munger had just hit the ground hard after diving towards the basket while attempting an acrobatic layup. With Munger lying flat on the floor and the ball hanging on the edge of the rim, the crowd was on the edge of their seats.
The ball went in, and the fans erupted.
“I think we really feed off that moment,” said senior guard Katelynn Flaherty. “Those certain plays really give us a lot of momentum.”
To be fair, it wouldn’t have mattered if the ball went in or not, because the Michigan women’s basketball team was already dominating Penn State. The Wolverines (1-0 Big Ten, 12-2 overall) went on to defeat the Nittany Lions (0-1 Big Ten, 9-5 overall) 89-69 in their first conference matchup of the season. The outcome was never really in doubt.
Michigan shined from beyond the arc throughout the game, and two early 3-pointers from Munger and Flaherty got the ball rolling. Penn State answered, though, as guard Teniya Page scored five early points to keep the game within one.
The Wolverines then settled in with a couple of routine baskets and a deep 3-pointer from Flaherty that forced the Nittany Lions to call a timeout.
But that timeout did nothing whatsoever in terms of stopping Michigan. The Wolverines kept on scoring — going on a 20-0 run — and Penn State failed to recover from the deficit. At the end of the opening quarter Michigan already had six 3-pointers and a 29-8 lead. The offense was sizzling and the defense was locked in.
“I think we came out of the gates just ready to play,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We had a tough loss last year at Penn State. I think that was fresh in our minds, and we just came out and played exceptionally well. … I was really proud of the way we came out.”
Not much changed in the second quarter. The Nittany Lions found slightly more success on offense, but they still couldn’t stop the Wolverines who were up 50-23 by halftime. Michigan appeared charged up and continued to push the tempo on offense.
Junior center Hallie Thome was a major contributor. She found the basket with ease whenever she received the ball in the paint and rebounded well too. Penn State learned through experience and started to collapse more defenders on Thome, but she still finished the night with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
The Wolverines’ defense wasn’t as solid in the second half, and because of this, the Nittany Lions continued to improve on offense and started to decrease the deficit. The game still wasn’t close, though, and Michigan was up 70-47 at the end of the third quarter.
Penn State ended up outscoring the Wolverines, 46-39, in the second half, but this simply wasn’t enough to close the gap.
With seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Flaherty drained one final 3-pointer, finishing with a total of 10 and breaking the school record. Her 33 points on the night paved the way for Michigan.
“It was incredible,” Barnes Arico said. “Katelynn works extremely, extremely hard on her game and her shot, and everybody got to see that tonight.”
Despite the successful night, there were still a couple of difficulties for the Wolverines. Ball security was an issue, as Michigan finished with 17 turnovers. The Wolverines also committed a season-high 23 personal fouls, and Thome even fouled out near the end.
“I think it’s Penn State’s style of play,” Barnes Arico said. “They are one of the top teams in the country in getting to the free-throw line, so that’s their game plan.”
Overall, Michigan had no trouble jumping over these hurdles, and it will travel to Iowa on Sunday with another dominant win under its belt.