By Omari Sankofa II
Last updated: 03/08/14 9:58am
When discussing MSU’s productive freshman class, redshirt freshman Branndais Agee is often overlooked.
But it was Agee who was the difference-maker in Friday’s 61-58 win over Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, scoring four of MSU’s last six points and grabbing a key steal in the final minute to seal the comeback victory in Indianapolis, IN.
“I knew I was going to come back out there and I knew I needed to play defense, score, whatever they needed me to do, I knew I needed to do it,” Agee said.
As freshman guard Tori Jankoska and redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers led the Spartans in the score book more often than not this season, Agee was coming off of the bench, working to get her legs back under her as she recovered from injury.
Agee missed much of the 2012-13 season after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in practice on Dec. 13, 2012. On Wednesday, Agee admitted she’s still only at about 70 percent.
“Everybody’s journey is different, especially in her situation where it’s three freshmen and two of the freshmen are starting,” said head coach Suzy Merchant.”
Agee’s opportunity came when junior guard Kiana Johnson was suspended indefinitely on Feb. 5. With Jankoska being promoted to the starting lineup, Agee’s minutes off the bench increased, ans she was able to display how her athleticism and length can impact games.
“There’s natural things she does, driving the ball, rebounding, that kind of thing,” Merchant said. “I give Branndais credit, it’s not an easy pill to swallow when you’re watching 2 of the 3 freshmen start, play a lot of minutes and you’re just trying to fight for yours.”
Agee should continue to have a role as a defender and rebounder off the bench. And with her only being at 70 percent, there’s no telling how high her ceiling is.
“The thing is, even when you’re not playing, you always gotta stay ready,” Agee said. “That’s what I did. I stayed in the gym as much as anybody else. I still kept working and I knew my time was coming.”
By Omari Sankofa II
Last updated: 03/03/14 6:26pm
A day after earning a share of the Big Ten Championship, the No. 19 women’s basketball team received a healthy amount of recognition in the postseason All-Big Ten teams.
All five starters were represented on an all-conference team, led by Aerial Powers, who was named to the First Team.
Powers also was named to the All-Freshman team by coaches, but lost the Big Ten Freshman of the Year honor to Minnesota’s Amanda Zahui B.
Senior Annalise Pickrel was named to the second team, and freshman Tori Jankoska, junior Becca Mills and senior Klarissa Bell were named honorable mentions. Bell was also named to the All-Defensive team and received a Big Ten Sportsmanship honor.
MSU is the only team with five players named to All-Big Ten teams. In her seven seasons as head coach, Suzy Merchant has a Big Ten-best 25 All Big Ten selections.
Powers, who was the only freshman voted onto the First Team by coaches, led the Spartans in points (13.8), rebounds (8.0) and steals (1.8) and was fourth in assists (2.4) and blocks (0.6).
Still no Kiana
During her press conference on Monday, head coach Suzy Merchant said junior guard Kiana Johnson still is suspended indefinitely heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
The Spartans are 6-1 since Johnson’s suspension, with freshman guard Tori Jankoska and senior guard Klarissa Bell handling point guard duties.
By Emily Jenks
Last updated: 02/25/14 8:10pm
At 5-foot-8, freshman guard Tori Jankoska is hardly the most intimidating player on the MSU women’s basketball team.
But her offensive ferocity and skill on the court earned her a place on two Big Ten Player of the Week lists.
Jankoska was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week and one of three members of the Big Ten Player of the Week Honor Roll, following an impressive win against Minnesota on Monday night.
Jankoska led the Spartans with 21 points, including four 3-pointers against the Golden Gophers. In two games last week against Minnesota and Wisconsin, she averaged 17.5 points, six assists and 2.5 steals.
Against Wisconsin, Jankoska’s seven assists and five steals set personal and career highs.
She holds the highest average points per game on the team in Big Ten games with 13.8 points, and she’s second on the team for the season with 12.7 points.
Her 57 three-pointers put Jankoska in second for highest all-time among freshman. Jankoska leads the team in 3-pointers with 2.1 per game and a 37.7 percent three-point shooting percentage, landing her in the top 15 in the conference.
She is climbing the MSU freshman points all-time ladder. Jankoska currently stands in seventh with 342 points.
Jankoska came to MSU from Freeland High School, where she broke the school point record with 2,333 career points, earning impressive credentials.
She was named Michigan’s 2013 Miss Basketball, and was chosen first-team all-state as a sophomore, junior and senior. She was an honorable mention as a freshman.
By Omari Sankofa II
Last updated: 02/23/14 6:40pm
Editor’s note: This post has been modified to correctly reflect the nature of tiebreakers and shares of the conference title in the event of a tie.
Monday will be a crucial day for the No. 23 women’s basketball team (18-8 overall, 10-3 Big Ten). Currently tied with No. 17 Nebraska for second place in Big Ten standings, where the Spartans ultimately finish in the rankings likely will ride on a game other than their 7 p.m. matchup with Minnesota at Breslin Center.
At 6 p.m. Monday, Nebraska (20-5, 10-3) will take on first place No. 9 Penn State (21-5, 12-2). A variety of scenarios could play out depending on who wins or loses Monday night.
Penn State likely would secure first place with a win, but if Nebraska upsets Penn State, Nebraska will be just a win behind the Nittany Lions with two games remaining on the schedule.
Penn State has one game remaining, which opens the potential of a 13-3 tie between the teams if Penn State wins its final game against Michigan and Nebraska wins its final two games against Illinois and Purdue. Purdue currently is tied for fourth place with Iowa.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers are the hottest team in the Big Ten, having won their last seven games.
If MSU wins its final three games, all against teams in the bottom half of the conference, they can potentially tie both Nebraska and Penn State with a 13-3 final record in the conference. If MSU ties with Penn State or Nebraska or both squads, each would share the Big Ten title.
Big Ten rules dictate in the event of a multi-team tiebreaker, the tiebreakers only will come into play for Big Ten Tournament seeding.
The tiebreaker would involve head-to-head matchups or the best record among the three teams. The tiebreakers then move onto the team’s record versus the next team down in the standings.
From there, the team with the best record against the other two teams would place in second. Assuming Nebraska upsets Penn State on Monday, Penn State would place in second with a 1-1 record against MSU and Nebraska. MSU is 1-2 against the other teams, meaning they would place third.
Therefore, MSU not only needs to win its final three games, but the Spartans would need Penn State to lose its final two games and Nebraska to lose one of its final three. Such a scenario would leave MSU with a 13-3 first conference record and Nebraska and Penn State tied at 12-4.
The odds are not in MSU’s favor, but anything can happen. It all starts with the outcome of Monday’s matchups.
By Omari Sankofa II
Last updated: 02/03/14 7:07pm
For the fourth time this season, freshman guard Aerial Powers has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week. She is now tied with Minnesota redshirt freshman center Amanda Zahui B. for the most in the conference this season.
Powers averaged 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and four assists in wins over Wisconsin and Purdue. She scored efficiently, making 10-of-20 shot attempts and making her only shot from beyond the arc.
Powers was pivotal in the upset win over then-No. 19 Purdue on Sunday, nabbing her sixth double-double of the season with 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
She leads the team in four categories this season, points (13.8), rebounds (7.9), steals (1.9) and field goal percentage (50.9).
By Omari Sankofa II
Last updated: 01/13/14 7:32pm
The women’s basketball team has had a strong week. On Monday, the Big Ten took notice, honoring redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers and senior forward Annalise Pickrel for their stellar play.
Powers earned Big Ten Freshman of the week for the third time this year. The redshirt freshman averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and 2.5 steals and posted her fourth double-double of the season against Nebraska with 17 points and 15 rebounds. She also had three steals and two blocks in the game.
In the 79-72 win over Michigan on Sunday, Powers had 13 points, seven rebounds and two steals.
Pickrel was honored on the Big Ten Player of the Week Honor Roll. The forward averaged 16.5 points, eight rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 blocks in the last week.
She had her second career double-double against Nebraska last Thursday, followed by 16 points, eight assists, six rebounds and two blocks against Michigan on Sunday.
By Omari Sankofa II
Last updated: 01/08/14 8:13pm
During practice on Wednesday afternoon, head coach Suzy Merchant revealed sophomore guard Mariah Harris has submitted paperwork to transfer.
The reason for the transfer, Merchant said, is to seek more playing time. Harris, who appeared in seven games this season in garbage time, struggled to crack a rotation that already goes five-deep at the guard position.
“Other people in her position that have more experience and are playing more minutes,” Merchant said. “So I really support her. You have to do what you have to do. I can’t give everybody 40 minutes a game, 30 minutes a game.”
Although Merchant said she hasn’t officially heard where Harris is going, she said the Ohio native asked for release to Ohio University and will likely end up in the Mid-American Conference.
“She had to make a decision for herself and she knows some people down there,” Merchant said. “I think it’ll be a good fit for her, I’m happy for her.”
By Casey Holland
Last updated: 11/14/13 9:12pm
The women’s basketball team has taken on three new incoming freshmen players for the 2014-15 season, according to head coach Suzy Merchant, who yesterday announced the signing of three National Letters of Intent.
Lexi Gussert, a six-foot guard/forward hailing from Forest Park High School in Crystal Falls, Mich, has been a three-year starter and two-year captain for her school, and is already Forest Park’s leading scorer with 1,891 points as she enters her senior season.
Gussert is ranked No. 54 nationally by Blue Star Basketball and is the 14th in Michigan high school basketball history to make 169 career 3-pointers.
She also earned an impressive record during her junior season, when she averaged 32.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.9 steals.
“Lexi adds to our roster an extremely versatile and skilled player that can play numerous positions,” Merchant said in a press release. “She can really shoot the ball from behind the arc, and at the same time she has a tremendous mid-range game and rim attack.”
Gussert made 93 3-pointers last season, tying for the second-most all-time in a Michigan high school basketball season. She scored 809 points last season, which tied her for fifth-most points scored in a single season.
Her career high was set last season with 50 points against Rapid River, the 10th-most points scored all-time by a Michigan high school player.
She doesn’t only shine on the basketball court, though. Gussert is a four-year letterwinner in volleyball, in which she earned all-state honors. She’s also a three-year letterwinner in golf and was the 2012 U.P. Division Champion. Outside of her school, Gussert plays AAU for Midland Fastbreak and head coach Mark Juengel.
“She also is one of the best passers I’ve ever seen in our game in the last several years,” Merchant said. “She can hit the open man in full-court transition situations, as well as pick defenses apart in the quarter court. Her IQ of the game is one that is truly special. She just makes everyone around her better.”
Kennedy Johnson was the second new recruit announced by Merchant. Johnson is a six-foot-two forward from Galloway, N.J., and was a three-year letterwinner for Sacred Heart High School. However, she’s playing her final season at Wildwood Catholic under head coach Steve DiPatri.
Blue Star Basketball ranked Johnson at No. 78 nationally due to her average of 19.6 points, 14.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks during her junior season. She shot 56 percent from the field and 79 percent from the foul line.
“We love Kennedy’s size and power that will add to the much needed depth of our post positions,” Merchant said in the release. “She can run, finish and also has a nice face-up game.”
Johnson has a Daily Journal and Cumberland County Player of the Year award under her belt, along with earning first-team all-conference, all-league and all-area honors and winning MVP.
“She played for an extremely successful AAU organization in the Philadelphia Belles that always competes against the best players in the country, so she will definitely transition quickly to this level,” Merchant said. “She is also very familiar with the Big Ten as well, as her older brother is a football player at Penn State.”
Off the court, Johnson is a four-year honor roll student and a member of the National Honor Society.
The last of the trio is 6-0 guard/forward Jasmine Lumpkin from Bollingbrook, Ill., a three-year letterwinner from for Joliet Catholic Academy under head coach Ed Schodrof. She’s a consensus top-75 recruit and is ranked No. 51 by espnW’s HoopGurlz, No. 52 by Dan Olson’s Girls Basketball Report and No. 61 by Blue Star Basketball.
“Jasmine is an athletic swing player that is great in transition and at attacking the rim,” Merchant . “She is a tremendous rebounder on both ends of the floor that will help ignite our fast break.”
She juggles playing for two other AAU teams outside of her high school. Lumpkin is a player of Mac Irvin Fire under head coach Mac Irvin and the Bollingbrook Panthers under head coach Chris Smith.
Academically, Lumpkin has earned honor roll every session, maintaining a 3.75 GPA, and is a member of the National and Spanish Honor Societies.
“(Jasmine) will also be extremely impactful on the defensive end as she is already a very good defender, and can play a number of multiple defensive schemes and full court pressure,” Merchant said in the release. “We love her competitiveness and her toughness as well. She just knows how to win.”
By Derek Blalock
Last updated: 09/04/13 1:24pm
After a second-round knockout in last season’s NCAA Tournament by Maryland, the MSU women’s basketball team will look to build off its tournament appearance this year.
The Spartans released their schedule for the upcoming season Wednesday afternoon and will face-off with a tough non-conference game against Notre Dame on Nov. 11. The Irish finished last season ranked No. 2 in the nations and made it to the Final Four.
MSU, who finished 25-9 last season and will return a bulk of its playing rotation, also will partake in this year’s San Juan Classic in San Juan, Puerto Rico. During the event, they will face Oklahoma State and Georgetown on Nov. 20-21.
This year’s non-conference schedule consist of four games against opponents in last season’s tournament: Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Dayton and Florida State.
The Spartans will open up Big Ten play at Minnesota on Jan. 4, and will only face arch-rival Michigan once this season on Jan. 12. The Big Ten schedule will face games against five NCAA tournament teams from a season ago.
Last season, MSU struggled with many injuries and suspensions that occurred early in the season, and will expect considerable contribution from those players. Junior guard Kiana Johnson was suspended for nine games to begin the year for violating NCAA rules of receiving “extra benefits.” They also should be with junior center Madison Williams, and redshirt freshmen guards Branndais Agee and Aerial Powers.
Williams, a McDonald’s All-American in high school, has battled several leg injuries in her career and has yet to live up to her potential. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament prior to last season. Powers tore her Achilles tendon prior to the season, and Agee also tore her ACL in a December practice after playing in just five games.
Wed. 30 FERRIS STATE (Exh.) – East Lansing, Mich. 6 p.m.
Sun. 3 GRAND VALLEY STATE (Exh.) – East Lansing, Mich. 4:30 p.m.
Mon. 11 at Notre Dame – Notre Dame, Ind. 7 p.m.
Thurs. 14 CANISIUS – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sun. 17 DAYTON – East Lansing, Mich. 2 p.m.
Wed. 20 DETROIT – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sat. 23 RICE – East Lansing, Mich. 7:30 p.m.
Tues. 26 at Temple – Philadelphia, Pa. 7 p.m.
Sun. 1 IPFW – East Lansing, Mich. 4:30 p.m.
Wed. 4 at Florida State – Tallahassee, Fla. 7 p.m.
Sat. 7 at Virginia Tech – Blacksburg, Va. 2 p.m.
Sun. 15 OAKLAND – East Lansing, Mich. 2 p.m.
San Juan Classic
Fri. 20 vs. Oklahoma State – San Juan, P.R. 3 p.m.
Sat. 21 vs. Georgetown – San Juan, P.R. 3:30 p.m.
Sun. 29 COLGATE – East Lansing, Mich. 2 p.m.
Sat. 4 at Minnesota * – Minneapolis, Minn. TBA
Thurs. 9 NEBRASKA * – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sun. 12 at Michigan * – Ann Arbor, Mich. 12/4:30 p.m.
Thurs. 16 at Iowa * – Iowa City, Iowa 8 p.m.
Sun. 19 PENN STATE * – East Lansing, Mich. 5 p.m.
Thurs. 23 ILLINOIS * – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sun. 26 at Ohio State * – Columbus, Ohio 12:30 p.m.
Thurs. 30 WISCONSIN * – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Sun. 2 PURDUE * – East Lansing, Mich. 1:30 p.m.
Wed. 5 at Illinois * – Champaign, Ill. 8 p.m.
Sat. 8 at Nebraska * – Lincoln, Neb. 3 p.m.
Sat. 15 OHIO STATE * – East Lansing, Mich. 5:30 p.m.
Thurs. 20 at Wisconsin * – Madison, Wis. 9 p.m.
Mon. 24 MINNESOTA * – East Lansing, Mich. 7 p.m.
Thurs. 27 at Northwestern * – Evanston, Ill. 7/8/9 p.m.
Sun. 2 INDIANA * – East Lansing, Mich. 2/4/6 p.m.
Thurs.-Sun. 6-9 Big Ten Tournament – Indianapolis, Ind.
Sat.-Tues. 22-25 NCAA Tournament First & Second Rounds
Sat.-Tues. 29-1 NCAA Tournament Regionals
Sun., Tues. 6,8 NCAA Final Four Nashville, Tenn.
*indicates Big Ten game
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 03/24/13 10:18pm
Just like the first game of the NCAA Tournament for MSU head coach Suzy Merchant, she’ll be facing a familiar friend on the opposing sideline.
On Saturday, it was Marist’s Brian Giorgis, and on Monday night it will be Maryland head coach Brenda Frese.
“For me personally, a very familiar opponent,” Frese said at Maryland’s press conference on Sunday. “(I have) the utmost respect for coach Suzy Merchant and her team. We go all the way back to our MAC days when she was the head coach at Eastern Michigan and I was at Ball State. So we know each other’s style of play extremely well and have been very good friends since that time.”
Merchant said her and Frese became acquainted before they were pitted against each other as head coaches in the Mid-American Conference. Frese spent two seasons leading Ball State in 2000 and 2001, while Merchant manned the sidelines at Eastern Michigan from 1998 to 2007 when she left for MSU.
Facing a similar situation as MSU has this season with a bevy of expected contributors shelved with injuries, Merchant tipped her cap to her coaching counterpart and praised the season Maryland has put together in spite of the challenges.
“It’s unique, I think, in a lot of ways. I mean we’re both moms, (and have) two boys in a crazy profession. Sometimes, when you have family that’s hard,” Merchant said of Frese.
“I’ve really appreciated her drive and her competitiveness. Her teams battle, I think the does a great job. Everywhere she’s been, she’s really been successful so it’s kind of fun to get reconnected again.”