Aerial Powers leads the Spartans past Purdue with 25-point performance
A standout performance from junior forward Aerial Powers helped the No. 18 Spartans (15-4, 6-2 Big Ten) capture a 68-56 victory over Purdue (15-5, 6-3 Big Ten) Wednesday night. Powers scored a season-high 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting while grabbing six rebounds in the Spartans’ win.
“When Aerial goes, we go, and everybody builds confidence off our best player,” head coach Suzy Merchant said.
Powers is a player of the year contender, as she landed one of 20 spots on the Wooden Award midseason watch list. She leads the Spartans in both points (19.2) and rebounds (8.6) per game, and is close to passing Kristen Rasmussen for eighth place on the all-time MSU scoring list.
However, she has had a couple of tough shooting nights in the Big Ten season, making this scoring outburst against the No. 2 scoring defense in the conference all the more important.
Powers did much of her scoring down low, with 14 points in the paint on the night. Merchant praised Powers’ tenacity attacking the rim.
“I think that she can settle sometimes for her jumper, but she was really attacking the last few games, and you can see, I think it’s really building her confidence, and it’s put a lot of pressure on the defense.”
Powers’ 15 first-half points set the tone for the Spartans as they pulled away from the Boilermakers early on.
“You’ve gotta be consistent, you’ve gotta bring your competitive edge. When she does that, I think a lot of people follow suit. It’s fun to watch her when she’s in that mentality, and it’s nice to see that come back,” Merchant said.
All three of the Spartans’ top scorers lived up to expectations in Tuesday’s win. Along with Powers' performance, Tori Jankoska had 16 points, including four three-pointers, and Branndais Agee scored 11. Powers said the offensive versatility of herself, Jankoska, and Agee helped the team overcome the Boilermakers' stingy defense.
“We’re very versatile, we can do kind of everything,” Powers said. “Me and (Agee), we can rebound and we can score, and Tori, she just opens the floor up because she can shoot so well. So it’s kind of hard to guard, even for a good defensive team.”
The success of the Spartans’ three stars on offense opened up shots for teammates, helping the team pull away from Purdue. MSU led by more than 20 points for much of the second half.
“Well, it’s like pick your poison,” Jankoska said. “You can’t really stop (Powers and Agee) from getting to the rim, and if you try and put two or three people on them, you’re gonna leave (Jasmine Hines) open, who also had 24 points a couple games ago, or you’re gonna leave a three-point shooter open.”
The Spartans also had a big night on the defensive end, not allowing any Boilermaker to score more than nine points. Merchant cited Powers’ defensive effort as a key to that performance.
“She’s doing a good job I think, too, defensively, and that’s really the point that she wanted to improve on here in the last couple weeks,” Merchant said.
Powers and the Spartans will try to carry the momentum from Wednesday's performance into their next contest at Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon.