Despite being just a freshman, Annalise Pickrel took control in a late game situation.
The 6-foot-3 guard for the No. 25 MSU women’s basketball team (2-0) showed flashes of inside-outside brilliance in the final five minutes of the team’s 74-62 victory against Dayton on Monday night at Breslin Center.
The ball touched Pickrel’s hands every Spartan possession down the floor in the closing minutes as she tallied nine points in the game. She dominated the defensive end as well, with two late blocks. She totaled three blocks and five rebounds on the night.
“I learned from my high school coach to not get frazzled in a game,” Pickrel said. “I know what I’m capable of and it doesn’t really matter who I’m against, if I just keep that same aggressive attitude.”
Pickrel said she felt a need to step up when junior forward Lykendra Johnson fouled out late in the game.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, now it’s my turn, there’s five minutes left in the game, what am I going to do?’” she said. “I got in there and I was thinking, ‘OK, I can’t just participate in the last five minutes, we have to pull ahead, I have to do something.”
Pickrel’s second half came as a pleasant surprise to head coach Suzy Merchant.
“I definitely felt a little bit frustrated with her in the first half, just because of the way she was defending,” Merchant said. “I talked to her about it at halftime pretty candidly and then I felt like in the second half she was a different kid. I’ll take that anyday, she plays hard, that’s one thing I know.”
Before Pickrel took control of the game, senior forward Kalisha Keane was dominated a game that was close with ten minutes left in the second half.
Keane lead both teams in scoring with 23 points, also showing talent form inside and outside the 3-point line.
Last year’s loss at Dayton (0-2) pushed the Spartans to play hard this year.
“Redemtion I really think was the biggest key,” Keane said. “That really sparked me up, I took it as a challenge from last year to come out and prove here at Michigan State we do play hard.”
Keane’s performance – along with seniors guard Brittany Thomas and forward Cetera Washington – so far this season has helped Merchant trust her senior leaders.
“Kalisha has come to play night-in-night-out,” she said. “She’s a challenging matchup. Your team goes as your seniors go and they’ve worked really hard to get to a point they want to put a team on their back.”
MSU did play hard, fighting for every ball, something Merchant hasn’t always seen.
“I’ve learned this team has a whole lot of heart and hustle,” Merchant said. “I still think there’s improvement, I was disappointed in some of the looks they got defensively and we’re better than that.”
Dayton was MSU’s first real challenge of the season after Saturday’s 90-62 win against IPFW, and the game proved to be an identity builder for the Spartans, Merchant said.
“I think this team is just trying to build its identity,” she said. “I feel like we’re starting to get there. I feel like we’re maybe a little scrappier than we’ve been, just because we’re quicker and more athletic. But I can tell you that was a team that when we played them one year ago, they out scrapped us, outworked us and out hustled us and we were not going to let that happen on our floor.”
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