After being deadlocked at halftime, the MSU women’s basketball team outscored Minnesota by 15 points in the second half to win its Big Ten opener for the third consecutive season.
The bench carried the Spartans in a 66-51 victory in what started as a typical grind-it-out Big Ten-style contest. Sophomore guard Kiana Johnson scored 12 of her MSU-leading 17 points in the second half to go along with three steals and four assists while sophomore center Jasmine Hines contributed 15 points and four rebounds.
“Just come in and do whatever our team needs us to do,” Johnson said of the duo’s mentality as the primary bench contributors.
“Today, my team needed energy and intensity and that’s what I brought. And I was just able to make free throws and get to the basket, so that was just a plus with it.”
Hines was forced into extended action when starting forwards Becca Mills, a sophomore, and Courtney Schiffauer, a senior, each recorded two early fouls and headed to the bench. Both Hines and Johnson played more than seven minutes above their season averages for MSU (13-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten).
“I was proud of our group, I thought our fight was good,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “I liked our second half. We came out of the gates really strong offensively in the second half, which was really fun to see. It took us a while, but we got it going.”
After shooting 28.6 percent from the floor in the first half, the Spartans were the aggressors coming out of the locker room by jumping out to a 38-30 lead in the first 7:25 of the half. The charge was led by sophomore guard Klarissa Bell, who scored six points during that stretch by getting easier looks at the rim than were there in the first half.
Merchant said a critical adjustments at the intermission was opening up more driving lanes to get Bell attacking the basket. Eight of Bell’s 11 points came in the second half.
With 9:26 left, Minnesota (11-4, 0-1) took its only lead of the half after a Rachel Banham jumper capped a 9-0 run to put the Gophers up 39-38. Banham, who came into the game averaging 21.4 points per game, fouled out with 58 seconds left and finished with 21 points on 9-24 shooting.
“She’s (a) very, very talented player,” Bell said of Banham. “I mean, she has a pull-up jumper, and then if you’re on her she drives past you, you know – she’s just very crafty out there.”
MSU responded by holding Minnesota scoreless for the next 3:04 while putting together an 8-0 run of its own, giving the Spartans a 46-39 advantage with less than eight minutes to play.
Johnson’s layup with 3:51 left in the game put MSU up 53-43 – the largest lead for either team in the contest. Eight free throws from Johnson and one from Schiffauer in the final 1:37 sealed the win for the Spartans.
Another strong defensive effort allowed MSU to keep its season-long streak of holding opponents under their season points-per-game average alive.
The MSU bench, led by Hines and Johnson, outscored Minnesota’s bench by a 21-0 margin in the second half.
On Sunday, the Spartans return to Breslin Center where they will take on No. 9 Penn State (11-2, 1-0).
“Going on the road is going to be a struggle, and if you can fight at home and get your victories at home, that’s something that you really need to take advantage of,” Merchant said.
“You never want to start off without a win in the Big Ten. It’s hard, you feel like you’re having to climb out of a big hole, so I think in some ways it was a relief just to get moving on and now we can roll up our sleeves and get down to business here for the next one.”