Powered by an unrelenting defense, the No. 25 MSU women’s basketball team forced 23 turnovers on its way to a win over Grand Valley State.
The Spartans, who capitalized by scoring 30 points off of the turnovers, zipped to a 68-43 win over Grand Valley State in an exhibition match Sunday at Breslin Center.
“We still have a lot of work to do defensively, but the start of that second half opened things up a little bit for us,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “We got off to a good start with a lot of tips and steals.”
Even if work needs to be done, the Spartans stole the ball 11 times and allowed few easy shots.
Junior forward Lykendra Johnson, senior Kalisha Keane and junior Porschè Poole each had three takeaways.
Johnson’s first came in the first minute of the game when she stole the ball from Laker Lauren Stodola on the team’s first possession, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
On the offensive end, MSU continued to run its high-octane, transition offense.
Freshman guard Klarissa Bell came into the game and buried a 3-pointer, giving her team an early 12-5 lead with 14:24 left in the first half.
With 11:36 left to play, Bell showed off some defense herself. The East Lansing native ripped the ball away from a Lakers player and put the ball into the basket.
Bell finished the game with 12 points and four rebounds.
“Klarissa’s done a great job out of the gates here,” Merchant said. “She stays within herself, she doesn’t force (plays), she plays with aggressiveness but is not out of control — which sometimes freshmen can have their minds racing 100 miles an hour — but she has a strong, easy presence about her.”
With 4:25 remaining in the first half, the Spartans went on a 12-0 run, highlighted by Poole’s all-around offensive performance.
The score was 41-16, and four of Poole’s six points came during that run.
“Everybody knows when I’m in the game or when I got the ball, or if they run I’m going to get it to them,” Poole said. “I think that helps more, that we get everybody running. Coach (Merchant) told me she needed a spark off the bench and that’s basically my goal every time I get in.”
Poole went on to lead the team with seven assists in the game.
The run was ended when Laker Briauna Taylor nailed one of her eight 3-pointers. Taylor was lights-out shooting 8-for-16 from three and finished with 21 points.
At halftime the score was 45-19, but the Lakers came out and tried to match MSU’s intensity.
The Spartans added to their lead at the start when freshman guard Annalise Pickrel laid the ball up and pushed the lead to 33 with 13:31 remaining.
However, the Spartans went from shooting about 74 percent in the first half to 24 percent in the second.
With MSU not cashing in on its opportunities, the Lakers made a small run of their own. Two 3-pointers from Briauna Taylor and one from her sister Brittany Taylor gave the Lakers a 9-0 run, their largest run of the night.
The Lakers outscored the Spartans 24-23 in the second half to end the game.
“We missed a lot of layups,” Merchant said. “We didn’t do a very good job of converting at the other end. I thought we had really good looks at it, but the ball just really didn’t go in.”
For the Spartans, dominating inside the paint also was a key. They had 32 points in the paint compared to Grand Valley State’s 14.
Johnson was unstoppable beneath the rim using her size and strength. She finished with 12 points and five rebounds.
With 6-foot-7 freshman center Madison Williams out, 6-foot-1 Johnson must take over the center role.
“I wanted to take responsibility of taking on the five and I knew what was going to be at hand,” Johnson said. “I played (the) four (and) five at high school anyway and I was guarding 6-(foot-)7 girls everyday when I’m playing against them. It doesn’t really bother me guarding them. I know I’m going to have to use my quickness to beat them.”
Johnson said she saw one thing in the weekend scrimmages.
“We’re all ready to play,” she said. “We all got a mission.”
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