YEAR ZER0 + ONE
PJ Fleck famously declared a year zero. Certainly, Penn State’s Carolyn Kieger could find PJ’s jargon useful. Before this season, Kieger said, “We absolutely are going to play position less basketball. That’s always been my style of play.”
Position less basketball may have been her style of play; but it wasn’t the Lady Lions style. Penn State went 7-23 (1-17 in the Big Ten). Last Spring, Mya Bembry transferred to Seton Hall, Lauren Ebo to Texas, Jayla James and Alisia Smith to Michigan State, Kamara McDaniel to Baylor and Bexley Wallace to Kent State. Round holes, square pegs. Thus doth a year one convert to a year zero in Fleckese.
Following the transfers and graduations, only three players, all freshmen, returned. Now sophomores, the three returnees, guards Makenna Marisa and Shay Hagans and forward Anna Camden, were joined by eight freshmen recruits and five transfers. The transfers are all upper classmen and bring experience to a team in need of some serious meet and greets. Instilling chemistry in such a team probably requires a degree in molecular biology rather than a Handy Andy Chemistry Lab; but, if you’re instilling a new culture eliminating institutional memory is a good start.
All the new faces meant, Kieger has been experimenting with the starters and the rotation. There are three consistent starters: sophomore Makenna Marisa; senior guard Kelly Jekot from Villanova and Senior forward Johnasia Cash from SMU. Marisa and Jekot are the go to players while Cash has been inconsistent and in foul trouble. The other two starting position have been doled out to players who had a hot hand in the previous game. Well…maybe there’s a bit more coaching involved but that’s what it looks like to me. Anyway, Wisconsin transfer Niya Beverly seems to be trying to nail down one of the open starting spots. Beverly was a three year starter for the Badgers-we probably know her better than does Kieger. It’s safe to say, you can forget whatever you knew about last season’s Lady Lions-Carolyn Kieger has.
So How is Year One going?
Penn State got off to a quick 3-0 start defeating Coppin State, 84-45; St. Francis, 87-54 and Rhode Island 70-69. The Rhode Island victory was notable for a fortuitous buzzer beating, winning, layup by Makenna Marisa. The ball was slapped out of Johnasia Cash’s hands and grabbed on the bounce by Marisa as she streaked down the lane. Two of the returning players were the top scorers: Marisa 17 points and Hagans 16. Two of the transfers, Johnasia Cash 13 and Kelly Jakot 11 were also in double figures. The Rhode Island win was the season’s high water mark. The Lady Lions have not won since.
The first loss was at Syracuse. However, Penn State (10-33 from behind the arc) put up a battle leading by seven, 46-39, with 7:00 minutes remaining in the third quarter. An Orange comeback late in the fourth quarter delivered a 82-72 win. The Lady Lions leading scorer was Swedish freshman Tova Sabel with 15 (5-7 from three). Other notables: Cash with 13 points and 10 rebounds; Marisa with 9 points and 11 rebounds and Jakot with 13.
PSU returned to Big Ten action suffering a hard fought 91-87 home loss to Purdue. They outscored the Boilers 29-21 in the third quarter on their way to a 72-67 lead with 8:37 remaining in the game. Purdue rallied and held off Penn State in the closing seconds. Scoring for Penn State: Marisa 26 points, Jekot 14, sophomore guard Anna Camden 11, Cash 11 and Sabel 10.
After Purdue, Kieger vowed that the Lady Lions would work hard on defense. Unfortunately, Maryland dropped by State College handing Penn State a 96-82 loss. Leading scorers for Penn State: Jekot 23 points and 10 rebounds, Cash 11 and sophomore guard Maddie Burke 24 (7-14 from three). Burke got to start the next game.
Traveling to Columbus, the Lady Lions took on an Ohio State squad that hadn’t played in 28 days and was still missing some key players including Dorka Juhasz. Nevertheless, the Buckeyes blitzed the PSU zone for a 22-12 lead at the end of one and a 47-31 lead at the half. A Lady Lion rally cut the OSU lead to 68-61 with 7:21 remaining in the contest; but that was the high point in an 82-69 loss. Once again PSU was led by both Makenna Marisa 21 points and 9 rebounds and Kelly Jekot 19 points. It was a breakout game for Wisconsin transfer Niya Beverly who scored 14 points in 30 minutes off the bench.
Niya Beverly got the start against Indiana and didn’t score in 23 minutes of play. On the other hand, Johnasia Cash came off the bench for 19 points and rebounds. It didn’t make a difference as the Lady Lions slipped to 0-4 in the Big Ten with a 85-64 loss to the Hoosiers in Happy Valley. It took until the fourth quarter for IU to put away Penn State. It was 64-58 Hoosiers early in the fourth quarter; before Indiana took charge for the win. PSU’s starting lineup was Kelly, Marisa, Camden, Beverly and Burke. Kelly finished with 13 points, Marisa 10 and Sabel 15. Other than Kelly and Marisa, who knows who will start for Penn State against the Gophers?
Last Season’s Matchups with Minnesota:
Minnesota opened the Big Ten season with a trip to Penn State and an 81-74 victory. In the first quarter the Gophers outscored the Lady Lions 28-10. Everything looked good until Penn State outscored Minnesota 34 to 19 in the fourth quarter. A 49-14 Gopher lead was chopped down to a nervous 12 points mid-way through the fourth. It was a slow crawl to the finish. For the Lady Lions: the only two players on this season’s team: Makenna Marisa scored 12 points and Anna Camden 2. Sara Scalia had 22 points and 7 rebounds. Destiny Pitts scored 22; Powell and Hubbard finished with 8.
The final meeting between the Lady Lions and the Gophers was a 85-65 win in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota turned this into a laugher out scoring PSU 48-23 in the second half. For the game, Minnesota was 11-23 from three while dishing out 20 assists. For the soon to be former Lady Lions, the transfer portal beckoned. Minnesota: Powell and Hubbard each scored 16 and Scalia 5. PSU: Camden scored 12 points and Marisa 5.
Kelly Jekot’s Last Six Games
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul Rhode Island 11 2 0 39 1 Syracuse 13 7 4 33 4 Purdue 14 4 2 36 3 Maryland 23 10 3 37 2 Ohio State 19 6 1 37 1 Indiana 13 3 2 39 1
Makenna Marisa’s Last Six Games:
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul Rhode Island 17 5 6 33 1 Syracuse 9 11 4 32 2 Purdue 26 4 1 31 4 Maryland 7 2 5 21 3 Ohio State 21 9 2 35 1 Indiana 10 6 3 28 3
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 6’0” G Gr Kelly Jekot 37.3 17.3 5.8 5’11” G So Makenna Marisa 28.8 16.0 5.3 6’2” F So Johnasia Cash 21.3 11.3 7.3 5’10” G Fr Tova Sabel 24.8 8.8 4.0 6’0” G Fr Maddie Burke 21.0 6.5 2.0
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 6’3” F So Anna Camden 18.5 6.3 2.3 5’6” G So Shay Hagans 13.5 2.0 1.3 5’7” G Sr Niya Beverly 17.5 4.3 1.8 5’7” G Fr Nyam Thorton 15.8 3.3 2.0