BLOOMINGTON — Indiana head women’s basketball coach Teri Moren got real with her team during the third quarter on Wednesday.
IU got off to a slow start against Penn State, and the Hoosiers trailed by five points at halftime. The Lady Lions grew that lead to nine points just under three minutes into the third quarter. The Hoosiers struck back on a Mackenzie Holmes layup, and then Moren called timeout with the team down by seven.
Inside that huddle, Moren implored her players to perform up to their standards. Team leaders, including seniors Sydney Parrish and Chloe Moore-McNeil, echoed those sentiments to the rest of the group. And that was when the game turned around. IU went on an 11-2 run to get back into the game, and the Hoosiers fought on to a 75-67 win at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
“It took us going down by nine to have a really good heart-to-heart in that timeout. I had to get after them, and they responded,” Moren said after the game. “I thought Syd was great inside of that timeout as well, and Chloe, I think, spoke up. It was a gut-check time, but it was about pride, and being able to guard our man better. But also being able and wiling to help each other guard the ball better. It took that timeout to get all of us back headed in the right direction.”
After that timeout, Indiana outscored Penn State 37-22 the rest of the way. That was the difference in the game. IU’s defense improved, and reliable veterans began stepping up in key moments. Parrish, in particular, took off. She scored nine points in that third quarter, all after the critical timeout, and made some big plays on both ends of the floor.
It didn’t erase the way the Hoosiers had played up to that point, and their play wasn’t exactly spotless from then on. IU committed a season-high 20 turnovers on Wednesday, and eight of them came in the fourth quarter.
But the timeout clearly helped Indiana’s players realize they needed to execute better. And they got more shots to fall from then on. The Hoosiers shot 13 of 34 from the field before the third-quarter timeout, and 12 for 25 after.
“We’ve got to have more pride. We’re better than this. Everybody has to look at themselves and know that there’s more to give. There’s more that we can do. And we’ve got to be connected, and we’ve got to help each other,” Moren said she told her team in the key timeout. “I thought that they did a good job. It’s one thing, I think, to come from me. But it’s also, it’s more powerful, I think, when it comes from your peers. And so they were very positive. Probably more positive than I was. But they did a good job.”
The weird start began even before the opening tip.
When Indiana’s starting lineup is introduced before the game, reserve forward Arielle Wisne typically greets each of the starters with an individualized handshake. But the redshirt senior was away from the team, so freshman Jules LaMendola had to step into the pregame spotlight — literally. And in that moment, the freshman sported a look of combined excitement and nervousness. She took extra care with the routines, not wanting to mess anything up.
LaMendola got through it without a hitch, and the Hoosiers took the court as usual for the start of the game. But while the freshman may have expected to be on handshake duty, she likely wasn’t expecting to immediately check in to the game. After the tip off, officials stopped the game because of a clock issue, and to also instruct Parrish to remove her earrings.
The senior needed a moment to get them out, and the referees told IU head coach Teri Moren she’d have to sub the senior out to keep the game moving. Moren wasn’t thrilled, but told LaMendola to take the court in Parrish’s place. And the freshman ran out while still wearing her warmup shirt. Once in proper uniform, she committed a turnover 10 seconds into the game, and immediately swapped back out with Parrish.
That sequence set the tone for a first half in which Indiana was out of sorts on both ends of the court.
“The whole start was a little funky, because of Syd with her earrings, and then Jules, and then the clock didn’t start. I hated the start,” Moren said after the game. “I hated the beginning of the game. I thought we were focused, we were ready to get out of the gates fast, and then the first thing we do is, we get the tip and we go out and turn it over. And then from there, they continued to gain confidence because we weren’t setting up our cuts, we weren’t meeting our passes, they were making us uncomfortable, we just kept turning it over.”
Indiana proceeded to shoot 39 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range in the first half, with eight turnovers, and had uncharacteristic defensive lapses. Moren gave Penn State deserved credit for causing a lot of those issues. The Lady Lions scored 30 points in the paint in the first half, a figure that clearly bothered IU’s players and staff.
After Penn State banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer before halftime, the Hoosiers tried to settle down and refocus for the second half to turn things around. And they did limit PSU to 16 points in the paint in the second half.
But it was really the third quarter timeout that changed the game. And because of that, Indiana is off to its first 5-0 Big Ten start in program history. Moren isn’t completely satisfied with how her team got there on Wednesday, but that happens over the course of a season. Even great teams have off nights — but the best teams find ways to win those games anyway.
And on Wednesday, the Hoosiers found a way.
“They’re all not as pretty as we would like them to be sometimes. … In the second half, we took way more pride (in our play). We played mad, which was good.” Moren said. “It still goes in the win column.”