Fittest loser
Article updated: 3/10/2013 12:53 AM

Spartans knock off top-seeded Penn State

Penn State guard Dara Taylor, left, shoots as Michigan State center Jasmine Hines guards during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big Ten Conference tournament in Hoffman Estates, Ill., Saturday, March 9, 2013. Michigan State won 54-46. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Penn State guard Dara Taylor, left, shoots as Michigan State center Jasmine Hines guards during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Big Ten Conference tournament in Hoffman Estates, Ill., Saturday, March 9, 2013. Michigan State won 54-46. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

 
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No one could have predicted Penn State would shoot just 22.4 percent Saturday.

But then no one could have predicted Michigan State would play defense like it did either.

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The fourth-seeded Spartans put the clamps on Penn State after falling behind 15-6 at the start of the game, upsetting the top-seeded Nittany Lions 54-46 in the semifinals of the Big Ten women's basketball tournament at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

Michigan State (24-7) will take on third-seeded Purdue (23-8) at 3 p.m. Sunday (ESPN2) for the tournament championship. Purdue is the defending tournament champ, while Michigan State won its only conference tournament title in 2005.

"We're happy to have a chance to play (Sunday)," said MSU coach Suzy Merchant. "Our defense has been the thing that's helped us to succeed. The two times we played (Penn State) this year they were in the 70s so to see our defense come to fruition tonight ... I'm very very proud of them."

In holding Penn State, which averages over 74 points per game for the season, to its lowest offensive output of the season, the Spartans didn't allow the high-powered eighth-ranked Lions a single fastbreak point. But despite 6 of 30 shooting, the Nittany Lions led 19-17 at halftime as Michigan State was just 5 of 27.

"They came out really hot and we just had to take a breath and get back to our game," said 6-foot-4 Michigan State sophomore Becca Mills, who had 16 points and 9 rebounds.

The Spartans, who were 15 of 25 in the second half, led 36-33 with just under six minutes to play when Mills nailed a 3-pointer at the 5:30 mark. Sophomore Kiana Johnson of Whitney Young in Chicago then hit a 3 at the 4:42 mark to make it a 42-33 game. Conference player of the year Maggie Lucas (23 points) buried one of her 7 3-pointers with 27 seconds left to draw Penn State to within 51-46 but it was too late for the Nittany Lions, as Michigan State made 3 of 4 from the free-throw line down the stretch to preserve the win.

"A lot of people can play with Penn State for 23 minutes, maybe 30, maybe 32, but it's tough to finish against them," said Merchant. "I'm just so proud of this group."

Lucas, who was 7-for-22 overall but 0-for-9 on 2-point attempts, added 8 rebounds and Alex Bentley had 8 points for Penn State. Senior guard Jasmine Thomas led Michigan State with 19 points and sophomore Jasmine Hines had 14 rebounds as the Spartans outrebounded Penn State 52-38.

"Michigan State is a team that likes a slow pace. I thought we had opportunities to push the pace but we didn't use those," said Penn State coach Coquese Washington. "One thing they did well was rebound and in the second half they were the aggressors on the backboards. Michigan State played with a lot of energy on the defense end, a lot of enthusiasm."

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