Sunday, March 26, 2023

DeHaan makes presence felt after slow start

Junior center Allyssa DeHaan has been often criticized for her lack of toughness and inability to come through in big-game situations — and sometimes rightfully so.

But in the MSU women’s basketball team’s first round NCAA Tournament win on Sunday, Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Insell said that was not the case.

He should know; he’s the one who had the bus ride home Sunday in defeat.

“She was a force in there,” Insell said after the Spartans defeated his Blue Raiders 60-59. “She altered some shots. If you have to look at one thing, every time they took her out, we were able to have our way. She played 33 minutes and that’s more than she’s been playing so you’d have to say she was the difference in the ballgame.”

DeHaan finished with six points, six rebounds and six blocks. It’s not a flabbergasting stat line, but she was largely responsible for deterring Middle Tennessee players from taking the ball in the paint.

The most notable of their players — forward Alysha Clark, who finished with 34 points — was scoring easily around the basket early in the game with dipsy-doo reverse baskets and scoop finger-roll layups. But DeHaan made an adjustment, started to move her feet and rejected a number of Clark’s shot attempts.

“The big girl got in her head a little bit and I must say,” Insell said, “she would have gotten in my head, too.”

She managed to alter an incalculable number of shots while blocking half a dozen all without fouling a single time.

Since most guards give up more than a foot when taking the ball up against her, it’s tough to get a shot over DeHaan. Even more of her center counterparts are four or five inches shorter.

For this reason, she often has difficulty against stronger or more wide-bodied opponents and players who can move around her. But MSU coach Suzy Merchant was on the DeHaan bandwagon going into this game, even knowing she’d have the tough defensive assignment of marking one of the best player’s they’d seen all year.

“I trust Allyssa because no one is like her in the nation,” Merchant said. “With her shot-blocking ability, I knew she could get her hand on the ball at least.”

For the most part, this team goes as Allyssa DeHaan goes. It’s easy to point to her in a loss and equally as easy to note her stat lines in a big victory. She will go down as one of the best players in MSU women’s basketball history and probably the single best shot blocker and rebounder.

She should. She’s 6-foot-9.

But her ability to have an impact on a game-by-game basis is what is called into question time and time again. Sunday, in the team’s biggest game of the year against the best individual player they faced, DeHaan came to play. And with that, the Spartans live to play another day.

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