Merchant looks for leadership after losses
Looking back on a week marked by a pair of tough five-point losses, MSU women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant is looking for a little more fire from her team.
The Spartans entered the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time last week, checking in at No. 25, before dropping consecutive games for the first time this season — on the road at Nebraska and against No. 14 Purdue at home Sunday.
“I think we’re fighting. We’re competing. We’ve just got to get over the hump a little bit and got to get a little more want-to and aggressiveness out of some key players,” Merchant said at her Monday press conference.
“We’re right there. It’s either teams’ to take, and we just gotta do a better job of being aggressive and making the choice to get it done.”
Looking for an offensive spark, Merchant switched up the starting lineup for the first time this season against Purdue by swapping sophomores Jasmine Hines and Kiana Johnson for junior forward Annalise Pickrel and sophomore forward Becca Mills. Johnson, a guard, led MSU in scoring for the third consecutive game with 19 points while Hines went 1-for-12 from the floor in the center’s first career start.
“Obviously at Nebraska we just really needed to make a change between Becca and (Hines),” Merchant said. “And then (we) give (Hines) the opportunity, and she didn’t do much with it. So, it’s frustrating. We need to get more consistency out of them.”
The Spartans have been one of the country’s top defensive teams all season, but as of late it’s a sputtering offense that is cause for concern — whether it’s poor execution or a lack of aggression.
MSU got 26 more shot attempts than the Boilermakers but struggled to 30.5 percent shooting on the night. After missing a jumper to win it in regulation, the Spartans went on to go 1-of-11 shooting in overtime.
Merchant specifically put pressure on her seniors, mainly forward Courtney Schiffauer and guard Jasmine Thomas, both after Sunday’s loss and at her press conference to lead the rallying charge she’s looking for.
“That’s what I’d like to see, a little more urgency,” Merchant said. “I mean it’s certainly not a time to panic. But that was a difficult thing a little bit for me, is I don’t see a lot of urgency. I think the fight is there but there’s a difference, there’s another level you’ve got to kick in. And quite honestly, I think that’s when a Schiff and a Jasmine Thomas has to step up.”
Schiffauer finished with four points and three rebounds in 34 minutes against the Boilermakers, while Thomas dropped in 10 points. But it’s the leadership and mental aspects that irk Merchant the most, not the on-court production.
Thomas accepted responsibility after the Purdue game and reflected much of what Merchant said regarding leadership.
“I definitely think there needs to be some senior step-ups coming from me, coming from Schiffauer,” Thomas said Sunday. “This being our last go-around I think there needs to be more emphasis on what we need to be doing for this team.”
After two close losses, the coach said she plans to have conversations with the senior duo about those concerns. Merchant said she’s waiting for someone, senior or not, to put the team on their back and maneuver the Spartans through adversity when it strikes.
“As your team goes, so go your seniors as they say,” she said. “And that’s the time: When you’re at home, (playing the) 15th-ranked team in the country with opportunities to get the job done, and we weren’t able to do it.”