Indiana women’s basketball didn’t make things easy on Thursday.
The Hoosiers, ranked No. 3 in the coaches poll, suffered a slow start at Penn State because of the Nittany Lions’ press defense. IU made uncharacteristic mistakes early in the game and trailed at halftime.
But Indiana turned things around in the second half, and came away with a 67-58 win over the Nittany Lions at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa.
Mackenzie Holmes (8 for 12 from the field) and Sydney Parrish (7 for 13) tied for the team lead with 18 points. Chloe Moore-McNeil shot 3 for 4 for 11 points, and led the Hoosiers with seven assists. Holmes grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds to pick up her third double-double of the season.
IU moves to 10-0 and 2-0 in Big Ten play, and now gets an extended break with 10 days before its next game against Morehead State.
Here are two big things that led to this win.
Cleaning things up on offense
That press defense caused real problems for the Hoosiers.
Penn State applied soft pressure in the backcourt — not allowing the Hoosiers to easily stroll across midcourt, but not getting fully in their faces. IU had to pass it around a few times to get the ball across the timeline on some possessions.
But PSU often set a trap once IU did get over the line. The Lions would double-team IU’s point guard, usually either Sydney Parrish or Chloe Moore-McNeil, pin her against the halfcourt line, and make it hard to find outlet passes.
That strategy was effective early in the game. IU committed 12 turnovers in the first half, nine of which came in the first quarter. Indiana shot far more efficiently than Penn State in the first half, but the turnovers made such a difference in the game and led to PSU’s halftime lead. The pressure flustered IU into a lot of unforced errors.
Head coach Teri Moren felt more of the turnovers were self-inflicted than things Penn State’s defense caused.
“We knew the press was going to be there. It was us trying to make, as we call them, home run plays, which are plays that your pass almost has to be dang-near perfect,” Moren said. “Yarden (Garzon) made some uncharacteristic decisions. Some of those were charges for Syd. I think most of it was on us. We’ve prepped for the last three days against the press. We were more than ready for it. I just think a lot of it was just on us and our poor decisions.”
Garzon committed six of Indiana’s 17 total turnovers. Parrish finished with four, as did Sara Scalia.
But IU was able to improve at ball security after halftime. The Hoosiers attacked the press with more precision, increased their ball movement, and avoided the mistakes that plagued them earlier. IU turned the ball over five times in the second half — all in the fourth quarter.
That was thanks to a slight halftime adjustment. Moren didn’t change anything schematically, but changed the strategy for breaking the press.
“What we tried to do is, we were going to break the press in the second half and really try to run offense, versus in the first half, we were going to try to break the press and be aggressive and try to get an early basket,” Moren said. “We just kind of flipped the script and said, ‘If we don’t have a layup, we’ve got to pull that thing back out and run some offense.'”
Getting Mack rolling
The other part of Penn State’s defensive strategy that gave IU some trouble was its aggressiveness against Mackenzie Holmes.
PSU forwards double-teamed Holmes almost every time she touched the ball early on. And the Lions tried to minimize how often that happened. They did whatever they could to limit Holmes’ touches, clogging up passing lanes and defending her physically. Other opponents have tried the same thing — North Carolina did last week at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
But it was particularly effective early in the game. Holmes had just six points at halftime, with just four field goal attempts. Some of IU’s turnovers came when unsuccessfully trying to get her involved.
Holmes was a benefactor of the overall crisper offense, once IU improved against the press. IU seemed to lob more passes in for the senior over the top, and her talent took over once she got the ball more often.
“I think Mack is still learning how to play through the doubles and the triples and sometimes even there being four people around her. She’s doing a much better job,” Moren said. “Probably not where she would like to be as far as being an efficient facilitator. We’re still working. She recognizes that it’s coming. It’s just that we have to make sure that those passes that she’s throwing out are not soft, have something behind it, to get out there to those shooters so they can pass inside, relocate, knock down threes from the outside when she sees those doubles and triples.”
Penn State won’t be the last team to try and make life difficult for Holmes. She’s been one of the top players in the country so far this season. Holmes was narrowly second in the country in field goal percentage entering this game, and she was tied for 11th in the country with 20.9 points per game.
As much as Holmes is continuing to learn how to battle through double-teams and triple-teams, the rest of the team is learning how to adjust when opponents take her out of the game.
“The Big Ten is really tough. Everybody game-plans. Mackenzie Holmes is not a secret to anybody,” Moren said. “Those other girls have to figure out how we can still score the ball and how they can still move around Mack. Sometimes I think we’re guilty of throwing that thing in there and just watching Mack instead of there being movement on the back side or a dive to the basket. I think as the year goes on, we’re going to see us improve.”
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