INDIANAPOLIS - For much of the game, the No. 2-seeded MSU women's basketball team was in position to suffer an upset at the hands of its biggest rival. But senior forward Annalise Pickrel didn't plan to have her career end at the hands of No. 7-seeded Michigan.
Pickrel asserted herself as both a scorer and vocal leader, posting 18 points and seven rebounds to help the Spartans overcome a 14-point first half deficit and steal a 61-58 win from Michigan at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday night to advance to the third round of the Big Ten Tournament.
"I think Annalise's will to win was there from start to finish," said head coach Suzy Merchant. "Sometimes, when things aren't going our way, we can become an individualized team, everybody wants to put the team on their back. But because of that, it's one passed shot and we're one and done. She didn't allow that to happen."
The 14-point comeback is MSU's largest of the season.
"The tougher team wins," Pickrel said. "That's really what it is. You can be twelfth seed and win the tournament. It's just whoever is mentally prepared and willing to do what they have to do."
Michigan sophomore guard Madison Ristovski was on fire, leading the Wolverines with 18 points on 4-of-5 shooting from deep. Ristovski, however, missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds that would have sent the game into overtime.
Despite big performances from several Spartans, it was redshirt freshman guard Branndais Agee who stole the show at the end of the game.
Following a bucket by freshman guard Tori Jankoska to give the Spartans a 59-58 lead with 1:15 left in the game, Agee stole the ball from Ristovski, and after an MSU timeout, tipped in a miss from junior forward Becca Mills to seal the comeback win.
It was the latest in a string of encouraging performances from Agee, who did not become a staple in the rotation until Kiana Johnson's indefinite suspension. The redshirt freshman has proven herself as a defender and energy player off the bench.
"I give Branndais credit, it's not an easy pill to swallow when you're watching two of the three freshmen start, play a lot of minutes and you're just trying to fight for yours," said Merchant. "But since there's been a transition there with Kiana, she's really taken advantage and sparked us in many games."
Despite trailing for much of the game, MSU stayed within striking distance for much of the second half behind the strong play of Pickrel, Mills and junior center Jasmine Hines.
After setting a hard pick that sent Michigan junior guard Shannon Smith to the ground, Hines made a layup to trim Michigan's lead to 46-41.
Jankoska nailed her first 3-pointer of the night with 10:28 on the clock to cut the lead to two.
Michigan built the lead back up to six, but Powers found Agee in transition and sank her first bucket of the game to trim the lead back to two. Jankoska scored a transition layup with 5:57 on the clock to cut the score to 53-51.
With under four minutes left, Mills laid it in to cut the lead to three. Pickrel drove to the rim on the next play to cut the lead to five, 56-55.
Following two free throws by Siera Thompson, Jankoska and Agee took hold of the reins.
With senior guard Klarissa Bell and redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers struggling for much of the game, teammates pointed to Agee as the difference-maker.
"Branndais, in that stretch there, she did a lot for us," Pickrel said. "She got some really important plays, some defensive stops, rebounds. Her energy really lifted us up"