Monday, June 17, 2024

Sliding into second

Spartans fall from 1st place tie in Big Ten with tough road loss to struggling Badgers

Sophomore forward Kalisha Keane jumps to block a pump fake thrown by Wisconsin guard Jade Davis Sunday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. Despite Keane’s 11 points and six rebounds, the Spartans lost in the final aseconds 54-51.

Madison, Wis. — The MSU women’s basketball team took a hit to its Big Ten championship chances Sunday, losing 54-51 at Wisconsin. That, combined with Ohio State’s win against Indiana on Sunday, put the Spartans one game back with two to go.

“I definitely felt like we played on our heels, we played intimidated,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “Give Wisconsin a lot of credit, especially on the defensive end. I thought they were more aggressive. … I definitely feel they came out of the gates, and we knew that they would. We just didn’t respond too well.”

Kohl Center was packed, as a season-high 14,657 filled the arena to watch the Badgers, who had lost 7-of-8 games coming in, face the Spartans.

MSU fell down early 10-2, as Wisconsin (16-12 overall, 6-11 Big Ten) came out feisty, looking to gain some momentum heading into the Big Ten Tournament.

The deficit grew to 12-4 before MSU was able to turn the game around, going on an 18-4 run over the next seven minutes to take a 20-16 lead.

The Spartans pressured the ball hard in the first half and forced 11 turnovers, led by sophomore Kalisha Keane, who had four steals in the first half alone.

The Badgers were clearly bothered by the pressure, but kept the game close with their long-range shooting. Twice MSU took at least a four-point lead in the last 10 minutes of the half only to see it cut by a 3-pointer. Still, the Spartans were able to rally and find players open near the basket, as junior forward Aisha Jefferson carried the Spartans into the locker room with a 26-24 lead.

For all of the pressure MSU brought in the first half, the Badgers answered in the second. The difference was guard Rae Lin D’Alie, who, after playing only 15 minutes in the first meeting, played 39 minutes and pestered MSU freshman guard Porsché Poole and had four steals to go along with five points and three assists.

“I thought Rae Lin set the tone defensively by picking up pressure and causing turnovers,” Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone said. “I thought she did a great job of finding folks.”

The Badgers quickly erased MSU’s halftime lead, as guards Jade Davis and Alyssa Karel found their shooting touch. Down 32-28, Davis scored on a three-point play, then after Karel hit a triple in the last second of the next possession, Davis hit two threes of her own, bringing the Badgers lead to 41-35 and forcing MSU to burn a timeout.

MSU, as it has all season, answered in the final five minutes of the game. Down 50-44, redshirt freshman Lykendra Johnson brought the Spartans to within one point, hitting two free throws and a clutch three-point play to close the score to 50-49 with 2:50 to play in the game.

Free throws would extend Wisconsin’s lead to 54-51 with 24 seconds remaining in the game, giving the Spartans enough time to form a last-second play.

Senior guard Mia Johnson received the ball in the upper right corner for three and fired a clean shot, missing off the iron. Jefferson got the rebound, brought the ball back out and fired a contested three that was rebounded by Keane, who would then get a look at an open three that went all the way into the rim before bouncing out.

Time eventually ran out on the Spartans and Wisconsin walked away with the victory, 54-51.

With the loss, MSU drops to 19-8 overall and 12-4 in the Big Ten. The Spartans are at home for the last two games of the regular season, hosting Minnesota on Thursday and Purdue on Sunday.

“We take this loss as a loss, but we learn from it,” Lykendra Johnson said.

“We’ve got to use this as momentum. We still want the Big Ten regular championship and we have to use this as motivation.”

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