The UT-Martin defense might have been focusing on the wrong IU women’s basketball player in its first-round game of the Women’s NIT on Thursday.
With the Skyhawk defense hounding the Hoosiers’ leading scorer, Tyra Buss, up and down the court at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall early in the first quarter, it gave IU freshman guard Jaelynn Penn plenty of opportunities to take over.
She took advantage of the open looks UT-Martin gave her early and often on her way to scoring a career-high 25 points.
The game started as a back and forth battle between the two teams and IU leaned on Penn heavily offensively after Penn got out to a hot shooting start.
UT-Martin couldn’t find any answers to stop her despite switching up their defensive schemes multiple times. By the time the Skyhawks settled on a 1-3-1 zone, they still gave up a number of open looks to her.
In just 16 minutes of play, Penn had already scored 16 points by cashing in on a flurry of pull-up mid-range jumpers and open looks from deep in the corner. She took that many points into halftime on six-of-eight shooting which included a stretch in the first four minutes of the second quarter in which she scored IU’s first nine points.
“You can put Jaelynn in a lot of situations,” IU Coach Teri Moren said. “You can put her in the corner for kick-outs or you can isolate her on the elbow and let her drive. I think she showed a blend of different ways she can score tonight.”
UT-Martin’s 1-3-1 defense forced the Skyhawks to spread out wide and left them susceptible to Penn getting open looks in the corners or senior forward Amanda Cahill getting free in the middle of the zone.
Penn patrolled the baseline to sneak by the Skyhawk defenders, allowing her to free herself up for all the open looks.
“The baseline and the middle are the weaknesses of that zone so we wanted to take advantage of those,” Penn said. “So I think it was important to keep running the baseline, having patience, seeing where the defense was and being available for my teammates.”
The Skyhawks tried to make some adjustments early in the third quarter after yet another three from Penn but it was still to no avail. She went on to score five more points after that as the Hoosiers went on to outscore UT-Martin 20-7 in the third.
It gave IU an 18-point cushion heading into the fourth, which was enough to close out the 74-50 victory.
Penn managed to lead the way with a team-high 25 points to go along with six rebounds, three assists and two steals. She did so despite feeling under the weather all week, Moren said.
“Even though she’s been practicing, she just wasn’t feeling 100 percent,” Moren said. “So it was good to see her get hot tonight.”
Penn’s ability to tough it out and have a big night for the Hoosiers wasn’t even the most encouraging aspect of the game for Moren. She said the play of Penn and the rest of her team’s young players showed a lot of promising signs not only moving forward to their next game against Milwaukee in the second round of the NIT on Sunday, but moving on to next season after their senior leaders in Buss and Cahill graduate.
“The experience our young kids are getting is really important,” Moren said. “The roles that Jaleynn and Bendu Yeaney will have next year will be much different than the ones they had this year with Tyra and Amanda as our main scorers.”
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