The MSU women’s basketball team felt the impact of the first sell-out crowd in the history of the program long before the opening tip Sunday. The Spartans felt it before they ran out onto the floor for warmups and even before they set foot inside Breslin Center.
Senior forward Kalisha Keane, junior forward Taylor Alton and head coach Suzy Merchant all said they felt it before stepping out of their cars more than two hours prior to the game.
“Wow,” Merchant said after the game. “I said that when I was driving here. I look up there, and there’s people lined up there already outside waiting for the doors to open. I said, ‘Wow,’ before I even walked into this place.”
An announced 14,797 fans — most of whom were dressed in pink for breast cancer awareness — packed into Breslin Center early on Sunday to watch MSU beat Michigan, 69-56. The win was the Spartans’ second against the Wolverines this season and solidified their spot in sole possession of the Big Ten lead.
But the special feeling that came along with Sunday’s win wasn’t so much about MSU beating its in-state rival for the ninth straight time, and it wasn’t about the conference standings.
Sunday was special for the Spartans because it was a feeling many women’s college basketball players never get to experience. Rarely does any arena fill up for a women’s basketball game, let alone an arena that holds nearly 15,000 people.
The occasion was so rare that Merchant and her players made it a point to stay on the floor and thank the crowd after the game.
Much like her head coach, “Wow,” was all Keane could say to the fans still in attendance before thanking them and admitting she had chills.
“We’ve been talking about it a lot — coming here when it’s going to be sold out,” Keane said after the game. “You start to get excited about it and looking forward to being a part of this experience.”
Keane and her teammates agreed they have one of the best fan bases in the country, and Sunday was just the latest example. Although, they will admit it wasn’t just an ordinary mid-February game.
“We get great crowds regardless,” Alton said. “But this was just incredible.”
It was incredible because women’s basketball is a sport that usually plays second fiddle to the men’s game. Even the biggest women’s games barely get any attention and draw average crowds.
However, Merchant said from President Lou Anna K. Simon to Athletics Director Mark Hollis and everyone in between, MSU is a place where the women’s game is given a chance to succeed, as evidenced by Sunday’s crowd.
“It starts with the leadership of those people,” Merchant said of the administration. “And then just to have Spartan fans that believe in what we’re doing; it’s just overwhelming.”
The support from top to bottom has done a lot for Merchant’s program. It’s helped the Spartans win 19 straight games at Breslin, including all 13 contests played there this season. It’s helped give players experiences they’ll never forget, and maybe most importantly, it’s made MSU a desirable place for any women’s basketball player — especially for anyone who had a chance to catch what went on in Breslin Center on Sunday.
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