Wichita, Kan. — In a game where the MSU women’s basketball team played down to its opponent’s level, one player stepped up.
Junior forward Taylor Alton more than doubled her season scoring average with 14 points shooting 4-of-9 from behind the arc and logging 32 minutes in No. 4 seed MSU’s 69-66 win over No. 13 seed Northern Iowa on Sunday.
Though her numbers might be impressive, they don’t begin to show the effect she had on the game.
Alton hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the game as part of a 10-2 run by the Spartans that helped them enter halftime up 37-28.
Although MSU relied on Alton to keep it rolling in the first half, the Spartans went to the 3-point specialist to get back on track as Alton scored eight points down the stretch to hold off the Panthers.
But Alton said the last thing on her mind when she has an open opportunity is how it’s going to affect the score. Her only concern is making the shot.
“If I have an open shot I’ll take it and try not to worry about, ‘Is this going to put us up by so much,’ or whatever but to just take an open look if I got it,” Alton said.
“Just having a lot of confidence from my teammates when I get the ball to shoot it.”
MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant said the Spartans have relied on Alton’s quick jumper to get them out of tough situations throughout the season.
UNI applied a half-court press with about 16 minutes to go in the first half and then moved up to a three-quarter-court press as the game went on. Merchant said having Alton as a 3-point threat helped MSU deal with the pressure.
“We have put her in a position where she is a stand-up shooter for us and she has a quick release and that is the shot we want,” Merchant said.
“When we are trying to break the pressure we send her to the baseline either strong side and she had opportunities to knock down shots.”
Alton also benefited from MSU’s offensive versatility, senior forward Cetera Washington said.
Washington said because of her ability to take UNI guard Jacqui Kalin to the post, the floor was opened up for Alton and senior forward Kalisha Keane on the perimeter.
“We could play backwards, that’s one of our advantages and we did that (Sunday),” she said.
“It opened up stuff for me, it opened stuff up for Taylor and (junior forward) Lykendra (Johnson).”
Although MSU had more talent than UNI, the Panthers appeared to come into the game with a greater desire to win.
This reflected in the team’s respective rebounding totals.
MSU led the Big Ten this season in rebounding margin, averaging 8.2 more rebounds a game than their opponents, but UNI held the Spartans to six rebounds below MSU’s season average.
A big factor in this was Johnson sitting out all but five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
Johnson is the Spartan’s leading rebounder, averaging just under nine per game, and her absence was noticed, especially on the offensive glass. The Spartans average more than 15 offensive rebounds per game but the Panthers held them to only seven.
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UNI guard Erin Brocka said the Panthers made rebounding a priority for the game — specifically, holding MSU to one shot per possession.
“That obviously paid off for us, (our rebounding) kept the game very close,” Brocka said. “That’s what we wanted to do — have a chance to win it and we had that chance.
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