After snatching first place in the Big Ten and selling out Breslin Center last week, the No. 11 MSU women’s basketball team feared it would fall into a trap against Northwestern.
It took until the last minutes of the second half, but the Spartans (23-3 overall, 11-2 Big Ten) thwarted any thoughts of a Wildcat upset and sent Northwestern (16-11, 5-9) home with a 74-60 loss.
Heading into halftime the Spartans found themselves in a position they haven’t been in all season.
The team was trailing, 36-33, at Breslin at the half for the first time this year.
Northwestern’s Amy Jaeschke was proving to be a one-woman wrecking ball as she dominated the paint.
MSU began the game by racing out to an eight-point lead before seemingly hitting a brick wall.
That wall came in the form of the 6-foot-5 Jaeschke, who overpowered the Spartans under the basket for 16 points in the half.
“We talked about our defense,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said.
“You give up 36 points, and that’s just way too many points for us. I think that was a disappointing thing, and the way we talked about defending Jaeschke we didn’t do.”
As Jaeschke overwhelmed junior forward Lykendra Johnson, the Spartans found help on the glass from senior forward Cetera Washington.
Washington ripped down a career-high 12 rebounds and helped the Spartans to a 23-7 offensive rebound advantage.
“They were doubling Lykendra down there, so I was just cleaning up what she couldn’t get,” Washington said. “At the same time, it’s just we have a feel for each other, where to go as far as grabbing (offensive) boards.”
The Spartans came out of a timeout with 6:19 left in and the game tied at 56. Though Breslin wasn’t at maximum capacity like it was against Michigan last Sunday, it was deafening.
Northwestern’s Beth Marshall took the inbound pass and attempted a floater that barely rolled out of the basket, and the Spartans quickly scooped up the rebound.
Senior guard Brittney Thomas rushed the ball down the floor, and after three-consecutive misses, Johnson sunk the go-ahead put-back.
The score was 58-56, and not imagining it could get much louder for a women’s game, senior forward Kalisha Keane came down the floor and hit back-to-back buckets.
“As many people as we had against Michigan, it just seems like they were ten times as loud tonight, which was amazing,” Keane said.
The Wildcats only scored once more, and the Spartans finished the game off with a 9-0 run.
“Keane hit a big three, and Alton hit a big three. They were just nails in the coffin,” Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown said.
Merchant said down the final stretch the game was decided by one factor: who had more heart.
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“It’s been there all year long, and that’s kind of what those last four, five minutes are,” Merchant said.“
“It’s about whose going to grind it out, who’s going to go get it, who’s got a little more want to, and I thought our kids had a little more.”
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