After speaking to the medical staff, Merchant was relieved not to hear the three letters she had been dreading.
Mills returns from injury, provides immediate impact
“It’s not an ACL (tear),” Merchant said. “That’s all I wanted to hear.”
Mills was fortunate that her injury was limited to a bruised knee, but the pain caused her to miss more than a week, and when she returned she struggled to find the rhythm that landed her in the starting lineup.
But in Sunday’s game against Ohio State, Mills looked like her old self for the first time since the injury, scoring 11 points and grabbing five rebounds, including a stretch where she scored nine straight points.
“It was kind of a setback for me — getting hurt — but I’m working back (and) getting back into it,” she said. “The last couple games I wasn’t really back into the flow offensively, but I think I’m getting there.”
It was Mills’ offensive surge — on a night when the Spartans had a tough time scoring — that led Merchant to leave her in the game down the stretch.
Although Mills couldn’t corral a crucial late-game rebound, Merchant said she was happy with the way her freshman played.
“(Mills) was scoring the ball,” Merchant said. “She came in and gave us a huge spark, and without her offense, we wouldn’t be in a position to care about a defensive rebound.”
Breslin Center regularly hosts one of the Big Ten’s largest crowds, but the past two weeks the MSU faithful has been taking it to another level.
When MSU hosted Michigan on Jan. 4, the crowd was listed at 9,718, and on Sunday, the Spartans welcomed their biggest audience of the season with 14,181 people in attendance.
The large crowds have started to generate a home court advantage most other Big Ten teams don’t have. MSU currently has the second-highest attendance in the Big Ten and outdrew the Detroit Pistons twice in the past two weeks.
“It’s great going in there to a pretty packed stadium,” junior forward Courtney Schiffauer said. “The people on the sidelines always have your back. When I’m taking the ball out, they’re always cheering for me. So it’s a good atmosphere, and that really helps us keep our energy and keep going strong.”
Merchant said she believes the crowd provided a critical sixth man against Michigan, and without them, she wasn’t sure MSU would have gotten the win.
“I’m always overwhelmed by the crowd, but it (was) a Wednesday night at 7 o’clock, (and) there’s a lot going on, so I really appreciate our fans coming out,” Merchant said. “I definitely felt like the crowd was a big part of (that) victory for us.”
After missing the Michigan game with an injury, Mills said she was blown away by the atmosphere against Ohio State.
She said the energy and electricity in the crowd helped her take her game to another level.
“It was great,” she said. “It was actually the first time I’ve played with that many fans, so it got me really fired up.”
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