Thomas shines in close road loss to Michigan
The emotions were difficult to hide on both sides.
For the visitors wearing green it was disappointment. For the home team clad in blue it was triumphant relief.
The MSU women’s basketball team broke its 12-game winning streak against archrival Michigan with a 70-69 loss at the Crisler Center on Saturday afternoon, giving the Spartan senior class its first-ever loss to the Wolverines.
“It’s amazing. As a senior, this was one of our biggest goals of the season: to come in and get a win against Michigan State,” said U-M guard Kate Thompson.
Senior guard Jasmine Thomas went out swinging in potentially her last bout with the Wolverines by posting a career-high 21 points, three rebounds and three assists.
Forward Courtney Schiffauer, the only other senior in the playing rotation, didn’t fare as well by playing just 21 minutes and scoring three points.
Thomas was the aggressor for MSU down the stretch, consistently hitting shots to keep the margin within reach, whether it was behind the arc or other spots.
“I thought Jasmine Thomas, offensively, was as good as I’ve seen her play in a Spartan uniform for sure,” head coach Suzy Merchant said.
“She was really focused, determined, aggressive — we really needed that. I thought she was really, really big for us from a scoring standpoint in both halves.”
Thomas’ spirited effort in front of a sold-out crowd of almost 6,000 in Ann Arbor drew praise from first-year U-M head coach Kim Barnes Arico.
“Golly, that kid was impressive,” she said of Thomas.
“Every time she shot it, I was like there’s no way that’s going in … and swish, swish, swish. So we’ve watch a lot of film and I’ve seen her make plays, but tonight, I thought she was really incredible and I thought she made all the plays down the stretch.”
Something about the aura and atmosphere of a heated rivalry caused players such as Thomas and U-M guard Jenny Ryan to elevate their play beyond their normal comfort zone. Ryan, one of five seniors that plays meaningful minutes for U-M, averaged 10.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game prior to Saturday’s contest.
In the rematch with the Spartans, she exploded for a career-high 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists with no turnovers.
After the game, Ryan echoed Thompson’s comments about the U-M senior class’s determination to avoid another defeat by the Spartans.
“We tried for the last couple days not to make it about Michigan State because I think our seniors kind of have a block in their head when you say ‘Michigan State,’” Barnes Arico said. “So we try to make it about us and just about Michigan and about what we do.”
Pride aside, Saturday’s loss hurts the Spartans even more in the Big Ten standings where MSU tumbled to sixth place as of that night.
For MSU the rest of the way, everything is about refocusing and improving its résumé for the NCAA tournament during final four regular season games.
The Spartans have finished second or better in the Big Ten and played in the NCAA tournament the past four seasons.
And perhaps along the way, Thomas will get her first opportunity to avenge a loss to U-M in the Big Ten tournament.
“It’s frustrating. (I’m) disappointed no doubt because we had the game,” Thomas said. “Like coach Merchant said, it could have went either way.”