UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - Maggie Lucas scored 25 points and No. 8 Penn State's pressure defense sparked a late first-half run to take control in a 72-61 win Sunday over Howard in the season opener.
The Lady Lions finished the first half on a 14-0 run after forcing turnovers on six straight Howard possessions. Lucas and backcourt mate Alex Bentley poked balls away for steals for easy transition buckets to help Penn State turn a six-point deficit with 4:42 left into a 39-31 lead at the half.
Bentley finished with 14 points and seven steals - six in the first half.
Saadia Doyle had 36 points to lead the Lady Bison, who took advantage of early Penn State miscues with good ball movement in halfcourt sets.
But Howard withered under Penn State's stifling backcourt pressure. Bentley and Lucas are big reasons why Penn State is the favorite to repeat as Big Ten champions.
The crowd showered Penn State with applause after the team raised the new Big Ten championship banner and posed with the trophy in a pregame ceremony.
It took them a while to play like the defending champs against the Lady Bison, the preseason favorite in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Cabria Johnson sparked Howard with two open 3s from the left wing, and Penn State looked lost in the halfcourt defensively at times with the Lady Bison consistently finding open players in the lane despite a decided size disadvantage. Howard's tallest starters were 6-footers Nicole Deterville and Kara Smith.
Doyle's layup on the break gave Howard a 31-25 lead to silence the Penn State fans with less than 5 minutes left in the first half.
"Let's go! Right here," Penn State assistant coach Fred Chmiel yelled, trying to get his lifeless team to make a defensive stop.
It seemed to provide a spark. Nickson picked up a defensive rebound and got the ball to Bentley, who then found Lucas in transition for a straight-on 3 to get Penn State within 31-30.
The backcourt pressure picked up from there with Bentley and Lucas leading the way. The defense forced a couple more turnovers off inbounds plays and turned them into easy baskets.
Lucas finished off the first-half spurt with an off-balance layup, pumping both arms and yelling to the crowd as the Lady Lions jogged back to the locker room finally in control of the contest.
Penn State pounded the ball inside to hold Howard at bay in the second half. Six-foot-2 Mia Nickson finished with a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds), including 10 points and six boards in the second half.