Late in the first half, the Michigan women’s basketball team trailed Penn State by just three points despite being riddled for 15 minutes with lethargic play. Sophomore guard Jenny Ryan had just hit a 3-pointer, and the Wolverines seemed to be right back in the game, their early struggles notwithstanding.
110 seconds later, they were down by 10.
It was that kind of night for Michigan.
The Wolverines took a beating from Penn State on Thursday night, losing 81-63 in a game where they looked stagnant from the opening tip. Michigan (6-4 Big Ten, 13-9 overall) had an outside chance to pull into first place in the Big Ten with a victory, but instead fell into a tie for fourth with Purdue.
Apart from their 3-point shooting, the Wolverines played a solid game on offense. They shot a dismal 27 percent from downtown in the first half, but were able to find easy shots under the basket. Michigan’s backcourt of junior Courtney Boylan and senior Veronica Hicks each scored 10 points on the game, even with intense defensive pressure from the Nittany Lions.
Sophomore forward Rachel Sheffer led the team in scoring for the third straight game with 13 points—most of those coming off close shots on dishes from Ryan. She finished with seven assists and eight points, freeing up an abundance of open perimeter shots. The issue, however, was that Michigan wasn’t making them.
“I honestly just think we couldn’t hit shots,” Boylan said after the game. “It just seems like we hit those shots on a regular basis, and in the games we’re winning, we seem to hit them and tonight, it just didn’t happen.”
Offense wasn’t the most glaring issue for Michigan, though.
Penn State (8-2, 19-5) and its vaunted offense came into the contest averaging 80 points per game, and it was clear why from the get go. When Michigan scored or gained momentum, Penn State often responded with a bucket of its own.
“It seemed to me like we were stuck in the mud,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “They just did whatever they wanted to on the offensive end of the floor.”
Penn State shot 57 percent from the floor, including an astounding 68 percent in the second half to put the game away. Even in the rare occasion that the Nittany Lions missed, their post players still did a good job of cleaning up the boards, scoring 14 points off offensive rebounds.
Five Penn State players scored in the double digits, but none was more impressive than freshman guard Maggie Lucas. She scored a game-high 23 points, punishing the Michigan defense any time it made even the tiniest mistake.
“We flew at (Lucas) probably more times than we wanted to,” Borseth said. “Every time we flew at her, she did one dribble, pulled up and boom. They can really pull up and shoot, that’s what they’re good at.”
The Nittany Lions proved they are in first place for a reason.
“They hit a lot of shots obviously; we gave them a lot of shots,” Borseth said. “But they’re really good.”
Michigan has a quick turnaround, playing Illinois at home on Sunday, in a game that will be very important for the Wolverines’ Big Ten standing.
“We just need to go back in the gym, get our confidence back and work at it,” Hicks said.