STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- With first place in the Big Ten on the line, Michigan State (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) used its stout defense to teach upstart No. 23 Penn State a lesson.
Lykendra Johnson had a double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds and the experienced Spartans forced the conference's top shooting team into bad shots and 24 turnovers in a 60-49 win Thursday night to leapfrog Penn State atop the Big Ten standings.
Taylor Alton added 12 points on four 3-pointers, and the Spartans (21-3, 9-2) held the Lady Lions to 32 percent shooting, 13 points below their season average.
"We just took away their 3-point shots in transition," Johnson said. "That's pretty much 50 percent of their game, so we knew if we took that away we'd have a chance to win this game."
Redshirt sophomore forward Mia Nickson had 22 points on an array of tough buckets in the paint for Penn State (20-6, 9-3), Julia Trogele grabbed 14 rebounds and freshman sharpshooter Maggie Lucas added 15 points, including 3 of 9 shooting from 3-point range.
Otherwise, Penn State's offense was halted. A team with just one senior (Trogele) was defeated by a Big Ten foe that starts three seniors and two important juniors in Johnson and Alton.
"Michigan State is a team that has played in these types of games before," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. "Our kids came into the game ready to play. We might have been too ready to play, too hyped up for the game."
Penn State's season debut in the Top 25 this week stirred new-found interest on campus. The last time a ranked Lady Lions team hosted another Top 25 foe was Jan. 30, 2005, when then-No. 22 Penn State beat No. 10 Minnesota, 81-68.
It was a far different outcome Thursday night.
Penn State went the last 6:20 of the first half without a field goal, and stayed cold to open the second before settling down to narrow an 18-point lead to 51-45 with 4:23 left on two foul shots by Alex Bentley.
But Michigan State pulled away from there after the Lions lapsed back into their early mistakes, maligned by turnovers and sloppy ball-handling. Penn State was held to 31 points below its Big Ten-best season average.
"The biggest thing we said was we couldn't get into an open-court game with them," Spartans coach Suzy Merchant said.
Having Johnson on her side didn't hurt either.
The 6-foot-1 forward had eight steals and two blocks. She finished off a scoring spurt to open the second half with a 3-pointer and two foul shots to help Michigan State stretch a nine-point halftime lead to 48-30 lead with 10:15 left before Penn State's futile run.
Penn State hopes to avoid a repeat of last season, when the Lady Lions rose into the AP Top 25 for a week in late January before losing to start a 1-8 skid to close the regular season.
Washington can take heart that this year's crew hasn't lost two consecutive games.
"You don't want to lose a game ever," she said. "However this was an NCAA tournament-type game, and our kids haven't been in this kind of environment, so it's a lesson for us to learn."
Thirteen first-half turnovers sapped the brief flashes of Penn State momentum. Michigan State's own poor shooting kept the game close -- until an 8-0 in the final 2:30 of the half put the Spartans up 27-18 at the break.
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