What was supposed to be a Big Ten Tournament game between the No. 1 seeded MSU women’s basketball team and No. 8 seeded Northwestern, turned into a shoot-around by the Spartans.
On their way to a 56-25 victory, the Spartans held the Wildcats to 21 percent shooting, 0-for-16 from behind the arc, and left Northwestern as the new record holders for lowest score in tournament history.
Both teams struggled at first to find an offensive rhythm, but the Spartans eventually took off like a jet and the Wildcats never managed to get off the runway.
Northwestern made only four buckets and tallied 11 points in the second half.
“We needed to make a statement defensively, and I think we really did that,” senior forward Cetera Washington said.
The Spartans statement was read loud and clear. They had a 21-6 lead in points off turnovers, after forcing Northwestern to throw the ball away 23 times, 16 of which came in the first half.
However, the game wasn’t a blowout throughout. With six minutes remaining in the first half, the Wildcats only trailed by three points.
Senior forward Kalisha Keane had a case of the airballs, junior forward Lykendra Johnson was benched with two fouls and as a team the Spartans were shooting only 6-for-19.
Having already got a feel for playing at Conseco Fieldhouse on Thursday when they defeated Minnesota, Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown was convinced his team would have an advantage and said he’s unsure why his team shot so poorly.
“Maybe the wind got in or, you know, Reggie Miller’s ghost popped up or something,” McKeown said. “I don’t know, but we shot the ball horrifically.”
One of the reason is because the Spartans had center Amy Jaeschke locked down and allowed barely enough space to breathe on offense.
When these team’s last met at Breslin Center, Jaeschke torched MSU for 26 points alone, however she was allowed only six this time.
“I think with Jaeschke, they played yesterday and you know, you’re looking at back-to-back games,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “I thought if we made her work throughout the 30-second shot clock, I thought that would really bother them because they rely so much on her getting touches.”
Coming out of halftime with a 22-14 lead, the Spartans wanted to put an end to their shooting woes and did so by jumping out to an 8-0 run.
“We just weren’t sharp at all (in the first half),” Washington said. “We weren’t setting screens or using them and they played it real tight on (Kalisha).”
The Spartans went on to extend that run to 25-3 and at the ten-minute mark, the Wildcats had only rallied for five points.
They went on a scoring drought that would last for nearly eight minutes.
For the Spartans, it was junior guard Porsche Poole who led the team in scoring.
After receiving high praises from Merchant from her performance in the regular season finale at Minnesota, Poole continued to impress Friday night.
“She is a kid that can punch a gap and make a decision about being a scorer or kicking it to shooters,” Merchant said. “And I think that she gives us a little different handle at the P-G spot, and I played her there more lately because I do think she gives more of a scorer’s mentality.”
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The Spartans regrouped and finished the game shooting 50 percent from the field and three scorers, Poole, Johnson and senior guard Brittney Thomas found double-digits in points. After being outplayed on the glass — 16-15 rebound advantage for Northwestern at the half — the Spartans made up ground and finished with a 40-28 edge.
“It was our first time here and I think sometimes you get a little bit of that nervousness going,” said Merchant about the first half. “But once we got settled in, I felt good about halftime. I felt our defense was speaking to us and whenever that happens, we usually have good things come our way.”
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