MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant said her team is looking for its identity after three straight offensively-challenged losses.
The Spartans, losers of 4-of-6 games, have gone cold from the field during the three-game losing streak, averaging 55.7 points per game, well below their season average of 69.3.
Although the offense has gone cold for long stretches against Wisconsin and Penn State, the team has been getting good looks.
But it just hasn’t been finishing, both at and away from the rim.
The Spartans also have been missing the presence of sophomore forward Courtney Schiffauer, who hit 61 percent of her 3-pointers the first two games of the season before tearing her anterior cruciate ligament.
“I still think we have enough to do it, we’re just missing easy shots right now,” Merchant said. “Our defense is working really hard. The positive thing is we’re in a lot of games because of our defense. We just have to do a better job of making free throws and finishing at the bucket.”
MSU’s biggest issue has been its inability to finish games. In the team’s Dec. 6 loss to Indiana, the Spartans led by 13 in the first half before losing by five. MSU also led Ohio State by 11 in the first half, but eventually lost by three.
In MSU’s second game against Wisconsin, the team blew a 14-point second-half lead. And against Penn State, a nine-point first-half lead went down the drain.
Senior guard and co-captain Mandy Piechowski said the team is giving in to fatigue at the end of games.
“We’re right there, if not leading teams by 10-plus points halfway through the second half, and it all comes down to finishing games,” Piechowski said. “It’s the little things. We’re not finishing layups; we’re not making free throws at the end of games when we were 10-for-10 from the free-throw line in the first half. It’s more of a maturity problem than a confidence problem.”
Senior forward Aisha Jefferson said, focus-wise, the team isn’t always there and that has led to the team to struggle.
“We’re not a consistent team and everyone sees it,” Jefferson said.
“It’s not just one player, it’s pretty much the whole team. We have to learn how to all be consistent. That’s the bottom line.”
The team was encouraged, however by the effort displayed in Sunday’s game against Penn State.
“It’s hard to get a quick fix and turn it around in one day,” senior center Allyssa DeHaan said.
“We’re just working on it. We’re helping each other out, we’re encouraging each other. I’m depressed, I know everybody else is, and this is not a happy time of the year, but you have to be positive and know that every team goes through slumps and we still have a good chance to come out on top.”
Thursday’s game against Purdue (9-9 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) will be a big test for MSU (11-7, 2-5). The Boilermakers have yet to win on the road in conference play and have struggled all year long.
Merchant said “maybe” there will be some lineup changes against Purdue.
“We’re just trying to go practice by practice,” she said. “Whoever practices well and performs well in the game will get the opportunities. I don’t see why we shouldn’t look at (freshman guard Jasmine Thomas) very hard.”
Thomas came off the bench Sunday against Penn State and led the team with a career-high 19 points. She did what many of her teammates failed to do: hit shots (5-of-8 from the field) and make free throws (7-of-8 from the line).
If the team doesn’t stop the bleeding against the Boilermakers, it could be the beginning of a rough stretch. After Thursday’s game, MSU plays four of its next five games on the road, including Sunday at Minnesota.
“Confidence comes from kids stepping up and doing,” Merchant said.
“We can shoot it until we’re blue in the face, we can talk about it and put in new plays, but it’s still players stepping up and getting the job done.”