Final: Merchant wins 400th career game, Powers and Jankoska combine for 64 points in 114-106 win vs. Minnesota
The intensity was so thick you could cut it with a knife. The game on Sunday afternoon was physical and gritty and a packed, pinked-out Breslin crowd was into it for every second. The No. 25-ranked MSU women’s basketball team (20-7 overall, 11-5 conference) hosted the Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-9 overall, 10-6 conference) in a matchup that will define the Big Ten standings. MSU beat the Gophers in thrilling fashion by a final score of 114-106.
Coming into Sunday’s matchup, the Spartans and the Golden Gophers were in a three-way tie for third in the Big Ten standings (with Indiana being the other team). MSU came off a 70-67 win over Rutgers to snap a two-game losing streak while Minnesota had a four game win streak halted by the Hoosiers on Thursday, 93-79.
Sunday was a much different matter for both teams. The Spartans, whose offense had been sluggish as of late, got right down to business, scoring 37 points in the first quarter. MSU began the day 14-24 from the floor and junior guard Aerial Powers contributed 13 points in the first. MSU would take a 37-21 lead into the second quarter.
Minnesota would pick up the slack in the second quarter and make it a two point game before halftime. The Gophers would start the third on a 13-4 run and would enjoy another 8-0 run before the end of the half with help from guards Rachel Banham, Joanna Hedstrom and Carlie Wagner. Minnesota made it a slim 54-52 game going into halftime.
Both Powers and Banham would carry their teams in the first half. Powers finished the half with 22 points, two rebounds and three assists. Banham, who came into Sunday’s contest ranked third in the nation in scoring 26.5 points per game, edged Powers out in the first half, scoring 26, with three boards and four assists.
With 7:59 to play in the third quarter, Minnesota guard Shayne Mullaney would put the Gophers ahead by one, but MSU would re-find their offensive stride in the third, scoring another 30 points. Banham would begin to flirt with foul trouble. She had three before the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter would go down to the wire because the Gophers just refused to go away. MSU’s main offensive trio would all be in foul trouble; Powers and junior guard Tori Jankoska each had four going into the fourth and sophomore guard Branndais Agee would have three in the preliminary minutes of the fourth. Minnesota would continue to nag the Spartans until the very end, with the Gophers falling just short.
Banham would finish the contest with 52 points, going 14-for-27 from the floor and 9-for-12 from behind the arc. MSU would go 18-for-24 from the free-throw line to take advantage of Minnesota’s 21 fouls. Powers would finish with 40 points and eight assists, while Jankoska complemented it with a double-double scoring 24 with 15 assists.
The win on Sunday was historic for head coach Suzy Merchant, with it being her 400th career win as a head coach. Merchant is now 199-94 while coaching the Spartans. The Spartans will stay in the race to finish third in the Big Ten, and will shift their focus to Illinois on Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on BTN+ with tip off set for 8 p.m.