Klarissa Bell announced her presence at Breslin Center in dramatic fashion Thursday night.
The junior guard’s halfcourt heave that fell through the net moments before the halftime buzzer tied MSU with Iowa heading into the locker room.
It was probably a litle early if you ask head coach Suzy Merchant or Bell’s teammates — she threw the desparation shot up with four seconds still on the clock and walked away with a look of disbelief after sinking it.
The timing would prove trivial, however, as Bell’s career-high 25 points powered MSU to the win over visiting Iowa, 65-54.
“It was the stupidest shot of my career,” Bell said with a laugh.
“Four seconds left and I just launch it. I don’t know what was going through my head, honestly. I just got the ball … I just took one dribble and just launched it up there and I’m so glad I made it because coach Merchant probably would have been yelling at me. Probably would have been red in the face.”
The game, which featured eight ties and 13 lead changes, was a dogfight for the first 36 minutes of action between conference foes. Neither team pushed the margin beyond six points until the decisive final four minutes.
Bell’s layup with 3:30 left broke a 51-51 tie and began what would be a momentum-swinging 9-0 MSU run. On Iowa’s next possesion, a steal by sophomore guard Kiana Johnson lead to a 3-pointer from junior forward Annnalise Pickrel.
Then back-to-back buckets from Bell gave the Spartans their biggest lead of the night at that point, 60-51 MSU advantage.
Iowa’s Samantha Logic then hit one of two free throws after Bell was called for a technical foul.
Senior forward Courtney Schiffauer and senior guard Jasmine Thomas each hit a pair of free throws, and Pickrel hit one of two from the foul line in the final 1:20 at which point the Hawkeyes conceded.
“It was a really big win,” Pickrel said. “And the fact that we were tied at halftime, and not playing our best game in the first half says a lot, I think, about our team and how we can really pull ahead of teams when we are playing together. And really tenacious on defense, especially.”
Pickrel finished with 10 points and seven rebounds after being held scoreless in a first half in which she struggled to find her shot. In fact, the whole team endured a shooting slump in the first half, going 10-for-33 from the floor against Iowa’s 2-3 zone defense.
Merchant said the halftime adjustment to move Pickrel from the corner and wing spots to the top of the 3-point line opened up more opportunities for her and the entire offense.
“In the first half, I think collectively we came out pretty flat,” said Pickrel, who later added “we needed some fire under our butts” at halftime, which Merchant promptly delivered.
“And then in the locker room we were just talking about how our team, how we play well, is playing with the most energy, being the most aggressive.”
Although Bell’s career game and clutch scoring near the end stand out, this was once again a win predicated by defense, energy and rebounding — things MSU has lived on all season.
The Spartans have made a habit this year of shutting down opposing teams’ leading scorers, with the latest victim being Iowa center Morgan Johnson. The 6-foot-5 senior, who entered the contest averaging 17.7 points per game, finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
MSU also managed to frustrate Hawkeye guard Jaime Printy. The senior averages more than 13 points per contest but only made three of 16 shots from the floor.
Merchant was glad to see the return of redshirt freshman forward Akyah Taylor who missed the last two games due to illness. Taylor doesn’t fill the stat sheet or play a ton of minutes — 10 in this case — but her teammates rave about the energy she brings to the floor.
And, perhaps more importantly, those 10 minutes provided flexibility for Merchant to give other players valuable rest.
“ (Taylor) got a technical on the other team … cause she’s physical and she’s aggressive,” Merchant said. “And she plays very athletic and doesn’t always know whose around her and just is aggressive to the ball, so she gets fouled a lot. And I think defensively she does a nice job of being an annoyance.”
Bell’s scoring outburst comes on the heels of a co-team-high 18 points in Sunday’s road win against Illinois. Merchant said she challenged the guards to be more aggressive by breaking down extra film prior to the Illinois game.
“It was probably the most shots she’s ever taken in a college game (in) her career I think,” Merchant said of Bell, who finished 10-for-20 from the floor.
“It was nice to see her have success.”
MSU secures a critical home win before hitting the road for three of its next four games. Next up is a road trip to Indiana on Sunday at 2 p.m.