Just as it has all season, the MSU women’s basketball team relied on a superior rebounding effort and a stout defense Saturday afternoon to pull out a 57-47 win over visiting Temple in the Spartans’ non-conference finale.
MSU (12-1) continued its streak this season of holding every opponent’s leading scorer under their season average by limiting Temple’s Victoria Macaulay to 12 points. Macaulay, a center, came into the game averaging more than 16 points and nine rebounds per game.
The Spartans out-rebounded Temple 44-38 and showed why they entered the game allowing fewer points per game than any team in the nation, holding the Owls to 30.4 percent shooting from the floor.
“That’s the one thing I keep talking to the team about is sometimes, you know, you win ugly,” head coach Suzy Merchant said.
“And sometimes it’s a struggle. It’s about staying in the fight and hopefully throwing the last punch, and I think our defense is the one thing that we try to do night in and night out. … I’ll take an ugly win over losing any day”
Junior forward Annalise Pickrel had a standout game for the Spartans with a team-high 16 points and five rebounds. She came alive in the second half to stave off a Temple (5-6) comeback along with providing quality minutes defending Macaulay.
The Spartans forced 12 turnovers in the first half and stretched their lead to 15 points with less than two minutes before the intermission. After allowing the opening basket of the game to the Owls, Pickrel converted a 3-point play and gave MSU a lead it would never relinquish.
Senior forward Courtney Schiffauer scored eight of her 10 points in the first half as the Spartans went to the locker room leading 34-22. She also added seven rebounds in addition to guarding Macaulay for most of the game.
“That’s pretty much the reason we’ve been doing so well is our defense,” Schiffauer said. “… I like playing defense – we like stopping people, it’s kind of our thing, so I think that helps going into the Big Ten season.”
The Owls started the second half strong, as Macaulay cut the MSU lead to eight points less than four minutes into the period.
With 14:15 left to play, Pickrel got hot behind the arc with back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the Spartans’ lead back into double-digits. A 3-pointer from sophomore guard Kiana Johnson one possession later seemingly put the Spartans in control with a 13 point lead.
“My mindset going into the game is just keeping it as calm and cool as possible,” Pickrel said. “… I guess I just focus on the things I can control like defense and layups and stuff like that so everything else just flows. I just try to play, I mean I’m here to have fun; everybody is.”
A field goal drought of more than five minutes for the Spartans allowed Temple to slowly edge back into the game, however.
The margin was cut to six after the Owls’ Meghan Roxas hit a 3-pointer with 2:10 left to play.
Junior guard Klarissa Bell was fouled on a put-back attempt with 56 seconds left, and sunk both free throws to put MSU up by eight. Two more free throws from senior guard Jasmine Thomas on the next possession sealed the game for the Spartans with 29 seconds to play.
Bell snagged a career-high 13 rebounds, seven of which came on the defensive end.
Merchant said the tough, grind-it-out conclusion of the matchup will be a valuable lesson for the Spartans as they begin Big Ten play on Jan. 3 at home against Minnesota.
This year’s Spartans are unique from her teams of the past, she said, because of their versatility and balanced scoring – four of MSU’s five starters came into the game averaging double-figures. Not having a single go-to player puts a strain on opponents defensively as they prepare for MSU, Merchant said.
Her program is 12-1 for only the fourth time in school history and nearly emerged from the non-conference season unblemished if not for a 60-53 setback at No. 15 Dayton – a game Merchant said she wishes she could have back.
“You don’t want to go into Big Ten (play) questioning yourself,” she said. “I think we’ve had some really challenging opponents as of late – and very physical teams and talented teams. … I think that’s the one thing we’ve seen in the last handful of games here; we’ve seen almost everything from pressure, to zone, to mixing it up between man and zone, double teams, that kind of thing.”