Embarrassing. Negligent. Inexcusable. Lowest point.
Those were the words women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant used after watching her team’s offense fade into the night while blowing a 14-point second half lead in a 48-45 loss to Wisconsin on Thursday at Breslin Center.
The Spartans’ season, which started with so much promise because of the returning talent, is officially at a crossroads following the team’s third loss in five games and its fourth Big Ten defeat.
Merchant, who cited leadership problems, among other ailments, said “major changes” are on the way for her team (11-6 overall, 2-4 Big Ten), which she said is full of players that are all talk and no action.
“They say all the right things then they don’t perform it,” Merchant said. “I think there’s a lack of communication there. And then if somebody is performing and wants to lead, if other players aren’t playing well, they don’t want to listen. It’s a fight and a struggle and it’s the lack of leadership and the lack of their ability to have a doer out there at this point.”
Merchant, whose team has been notorious for showing up against top competition and shrinking against lesser foes, said she asked her team before the game if the game would be a statement game. The statement, however, was that the third-year coach’s team hasn’t shaken its bad habit.
“When is this team going to quit that?” Merchant asked, pointing out Wisconsin has beat MSU four straight times now. “I thought we were flat in warm-ups, we were very quiet in the locker room, allegedly it was because we were focused, but I don’t know if that’s really the case. I just think it’s a situation where a team is struggling right now. It’s starving for a leader that will perform.”
MSU led by 14 with 14 minutes remaining in the second half, but the Badgers chipped away as the Spartans’ offense went stone cold.
A basket by junior guard Brittney Thomas with 12:15 remaining gave MSU a 12-point edge, 41-29. But after that, the Spartans went more than 10 minutes without a field goal and the Badgers finished the game on a 19-4 run.
“I thought we had good looks,” Merchant said. “They didn’t go down for us. And when did get fouled, we missed free throws. The momentum changed there and we just never really could get into a flow and nobody wanted it. We couldn’t get much performance off of our bench.
“Nobody wanted to stop the bleeding, basically.”
MSU’s offensive numbers were staggering. The Spartans scored two field goals in the final 14 minutes, shot 28.6 percent from the field and made 46.2 percent from the free-throw line in the second half. For the game, MSU grabbed 45 rebounds, 16 off the offensive glass, but only had 45 points.
“I wish I had the answer,” senior center Allyssa DeHaan said. “There’s no quick fix to it and it’s not just one person. Everybody needs to step up in their role individually.”
Senior forward Aisha Jefferson said focus is one of the team’s big problems, but added there is little time to regroup before Sunday’s game at Penn State.
“There’s no excuse,” Jefferson said. “I really don’t understand, but we’re going to keep doing our job, keep playing hard and hopefully things fall together pretty soon. We can’t just give up right now. We definitely have things to talk about.”