When head coach Suzy Merchant and the MSU women’s basketball team travels to Ypsilanti, Mich., to take on Eastern Michigan at 7 p.m. Thursday, it will be homecoming of sorts for MSU’s head coach.
Before coming to MSU five seasons ago, Merchant spent nine seasons at the helm of the Eagles, coaching them to one NCAA Tournament appearance and a pair of Women’s National Invitational Tournament appearances, and now will be returning for the first time since.
“I really enjoyed my time there,” Merchant said. “I have a lot of fond, fond memories at Eastern Michigan. It was a long time ago it seems like. I was 28 years old when I got that job, and it was the first step in this job as a career. I learned a lot about myself. I learned how to be a professional.”
Merchant said she will learn a lot about the Spartans against what she expects to be a very energetic Eastern Michigan team.
“Eastern Michigan is a very good program that has been in the postseason,” she said. “For us, it’s our first road opportunity to show what we can do in somebody else’s environment, but now we’re going to be on the other side.”
MSU defeated Eastern Michigan 60-59 in overtime a season ago, and junior guard Klarissa Bell said the Spartans must stay focused as it will be a revenge game for the Eagles.
“Last year, we almost lost to them in overtime, so that will be something that will fuel their fire a little bit,” Bell said. “Just playing against Michigan State at their home, they’re just going to come out ready to go and ready to rock, and that will be something that we’re going to have to work up to.”
Bell said the team isn’t too worried about Merchant’s return, but they are more focused on the energy that Eastern Michigan will bring.
“It will be cool just to see where she coached, but she’s here now, so it doesn’t matter,” Bell said. “They weren’t recruited by us and so they try to show off that they can kind of play at our level so I think that’s always going to happen no matter where we go.”
Senior guard Jasmine Thomas, who hit the 3-pointer that sent last year’s game against the Eagles into overtime, said the best way to win is to stay focused and keep the energy at a high level.
“Try to keep yourself focused on beating the other team and don’t try to worry about too much outside stuff,” Thomas said. “Just keeping our focus with the starts of our games and just keeping our energy throughout the game. Other than that just go in there and do what we do.”