One week after entering the Associated Press top-25 for the first time since 2011, the No. 25 MSU women’s basketball team might have played itself out of the rankings by dropping consecutive games for the first time this season.
After losing on the road to Nebraska on Thursday, the Spartans dropped a home match up with No. 15 Purdue (17-3 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) in overtime, 67-62, Sunday evening.
MSU (16-4, 4-3) snapped a five-game home winning streak against the Boilermakers on a night when the offensive production couldn’t match the tenacious defense the Spartans have hung their hats on all season.
The Spartans forced 21 turnovers against only six of their own and recorded 13 steals to Purdue’s four.
A 30.5 percent shooting performance coupled with a 7-of-14 free throw outing was the difference for MSU as it nearly toppled one of the conference’s best.
“We played horrible at Nebraska and still could have won. We played terrible here, we still could have won,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “But now you’ve got to decide, like the seniors and the returning kids just have to decide that they’re going to push through that. Is there fatigue? Probably. I mean, I don’t know how there can’t be.”
Merchant altered the starting lineup for the first time this season by inserting a pair of sophomores, guard Kiana Johnson and center Jasmine Hines, for junior forward Annalise Pickrel and sophomore forward Becca Mills.
On the heels of scoring a career-high 22 points against Nebraska, Johnson led MSU for the third consecutive contest with 19 points while dishing out five assists. Hines, in her first career start, hauled in 11 rebounds while finishing with five points on 1-of-12 shooting from the floor.
Johnson took control for MSU late, starting with a 3-pointer with 4:29 left in the second half to cut Purdue’s lead to five. Senior guard Jasmine Thomas then hit a pair of free throws before junior guard Klarissa Bell missed two of her own, leaving MSU down 55-52.
Another Johnson 3-pointer with 2:47 left in the second half tied it up and sent a season-high crowd of 10,095 into a frenzy at Breslin Center. Thomas hit the go-ahead shot with 1:21 left, giving MSU a two-point advantage, but missed a lay-up that would have extended the lead after a steal by senior forward Courtney Schiffauer.
Purdue’s sixth-year senior Drey Mingo tied the game at 59 on a layup the next possession. Mingo finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Boilermakers.
“Definitely a missed opportunity,” Thomas said of the game. “… I just feel like it was a lot that we did to lose the game rather than the opposing team.”
With 56 seconds left in overtime, Thomas heaved a nearly full-court pass to Bell who layed it in to put MSU within one, 63-62.
Purdue took a timeout on the next possession, resulting in a jumper from April Wilson in the shot clock’s dwindling moments, giving the Boilermakers a 65-62 advantage. Hines then missed a layup and put-back attempt in a crowd under the rim with 18 ticks left, forcing the Spartans to foul.
The Boilermakers’ Courtney Moses hit one of two free throws which left MSU down by four with 15 seconds left to play. Schiffauer would miss a 3-pointer on the Spartans’ next trip down before Wilson sunk another free throw after being fouled to put the game away.
“I think both coaches are all about defense,” Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp said. “… We have a similar style to some degree, so it focuses on defense and usually comes down to those few offensive players who can make some shots.”
Mills contributed nine straight points off the bench in the first half, and finished with 11 in nine minutes on the floor. Bell, MSU’s leading scorer, had another uncharacteristic night going 3-for-11 for six points.
The Spartans will look to rebound from a spot they’ve never been in before, facing a two-game losing streak, on the road Thursday against Northwestern.
“We should be able to defend and score the ball … We’ve got to finish, there’s just no other way to do it,” Merchant said. “And when we finish we can beat anybody, when we don’t it’s going to be a struggle. And we still had a chance (tonight), so they’ve just go to decide.”