Penn State's Talia East, right, reaches past Michigan State's Courtney Schiffauer for a rebound in the first half Sunday in University Park, Pa.
By The Associated Press
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Alex Bentley was Penn State's offensive star Sunday with 24 points.
Still, she had no qualms about giving credit for the team's 20th victory to the defense.
"We needed more energy on the defensive end and we just needed to get after it. That's when the game started to turn around," Bentley said of No. 8 Penn State overcoming a slow start to overwhelm No. 23 Michigan State, 71-56, at Bryce Jordan Center.
Maggie Lucas added 19 points as the Nittany Lions (20-3, 10-1 Big Ten) won their 18th consecutive home game and built a two-game conference lead, as second-place Purdue lost to Michigan Sunday.
Nikki Greene had 13 points for Penn State, which closed the first half with a 21-7 run to take a five-point lead and opened the second half with another 21-7 run to build a 19-point margin.
Annalise Pickrel scored 16 points for the Spartans (18-6, 6-4) and Jasmine Thomas and Jasmine Hines added eight apiece. But Michigan State scored just five second-chance points despite outrebounding Penn State, 41-33.
The Nittany Lions' slow start coincided with Bentley's rough beginning -- the senior guard did not score until six minutes had elapsed.
"Coach challenged me to get to the lane and my posts helped me with screens and seals, so half of my points really go to them," Bentley said.
She continued her assault on the Penn State record books by becoming the fourth Nittany Lion with 300 steals and the fourth player in Big Ten history to score 1,500 points, record 500 assists and notch 300 steals in a career.
"She's pretty good. She's all right. I kind of like her," coach Coquese Washington said about Bentley, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "I'm glad she's playing for me, playing for Penn State. I love coaching her."
It was just the third time this season the Spartans allowed more than 70 points. Penn State scored 76 in a Jan. 6 victory at Michigan State.
Sunday's win marked the first time since the 2003-04 season that Penn State swept the Spartans in the regular season.
"I was frustrated we did some things early that were effective [against Bentley] and we went away from them in the second half," Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. "That's when she took off."