BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Hoosiers started off Big Ten conference play with a bang shutting down the Penn State Nittany Lions 70-40, the fewest points allowed by Indiana defense in a Big Ten game since March 4, 2004 against Wisconsin.
"We're sort of in new territory," Indiana head coach Teri Moren said. "Yes, we've been ranked, yes we went to the Elite Eight, but we did a lot of firsts last year. I think we are trying to figure out how to manage the expectations."
Moren wants her team to keep the noise out and blinders on so they can remain focused on the next game in front of them, not the rank.
Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes has said before she's not focused on all the numbers, which is why she puts up such high ones.
Holmes led the team once again with 16 points. Ali Patberg trailed behind at 15, and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary put up 13 points, a product of a few three-pointers. All five starters scored in double-figures.
"The only frustrating point or piece of the game is again, our turnovers," Moren said. "We want to be under 11 and once again, we were careless tonight I thought, especially in the first half, and we got to fix that," Moren said.
The Hoosiers ended with 18 turnovers, seven more than their limit.
Senior guard Grace Berger got things rolling with the first bucket of the game. Penn State took an early lead thanks to junior guard Makenna Marisa who went 3-for-3 on field goals in the first minute and a half.
Indiana's defense kicked in and held the Nittany Lions to a scoring drought. A Patberg jumper put the Hoosiers back in the lead, 7-6.
Penn State suffered another three-minute scoring drought. Marisa scored all but one bucket in the first quarter desperately trying to find an oasis for her team.
The Hoosiers' 8-0 run and consistent, powerful defense put Penn State in yet another scoring drought giving Indiana an 18-13 lead before the second quarter.
"I think it definitely helps when we get good ball movement and great passes, and today we had quite a few of those," Cardaño-Hillary said. "I think our defense helps us keep momentum for offense."
The second quarter was an improved version of the first for the Hoosiers. Penn State, at one point, missed four field goals in a row. The Nittany Lions resorted to three-pointers that weren't falling either.
On the contrary, Cardaño-Hillary kept piling up three-pointers to secure a better lead for the Hoosiers. Penn State tried to respond, but fell victim to four turnovers and you guessed it, another scoring drought.
"I'll chip in and say Nikki is a shooter," Holmes said. "She can shoot the ball any time she touches it. I think she has that mentality and that confidence, and she knows we're confident in her."
Indiana ended the half with a comfortable 37-21 lead.
The Hoosiers put the Nittany Lions through the largest scoring drought yet in the third holding them off for 7:40 until Leilani Kapinus made a bucket after a 21-0 run by Indiana.
Indiana also kept Penn State scoreless from the three-point line, an uncommon experience in Big Ten play.
"When you look at the category of free throw shots on Penn State's side, there were zero, so that means we're moving our feet. We're being sound. Our rotations are where they need to be," Moren said.
The Hoosiers gave their starters a breather allowing their bench to step in. The Hoosiers had zero field goals for three minutes but still finished the quarter with a 30-point cushion.
The rest of the Hoosiers' bench saw playing time in the fourth giving the freshmen and newer faces firsthand experience in Big Ten conference play.
"Since the Bahamas, we've been in prep mode for N.C. State, and we had a quick turnaround and had to play Penn State , so we're kind of looking forward to the moment where we can sort of catch our breathe if we have a period of time whether it's three or four days where we can just work on us," Moren said.
The Hoosiers aren't quite due for a break just yet. Up next, the Hoosiers remain at home hosting the Fairfield Stags on Thursday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. ET.
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