In a game that was defined by physicality and toughness, the MSU women’s basketball team struggled to meet the challenge.
After starting the Big Ten season with four straight wins for only the fourth time in program history, MSU (12-6 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) suffered its first loss of the conference season to No. 11 Ohio State (17-1, 4-1) on Sunday 64-56 at Breslin Center.
Rebounding and defense have been staples of the MSU women’s basketball team under head coach Suzy Merchant. The Spartans lead the Big Ten in rebound margin and rank third in the conference in points allowed this season, but the physicality and toughness of Ohio State hindered MSU’s performance.
“I thought we were a little soft, quite frankly,” Merchant said. “We were complaining about getting bumped instead of concentrating on holding it strong and keeping our space and owning our space and finishing. I definitely thought that the physicality from the perimeter to the post bothered our team tonight.”
MSU struggled to shoot the ball the entire game, including nearly a seven-minute stretch where the Spartans didn’t make a shot and allowed Ohio State to build a lead.
Merchant said the poor shooting from the field combined with making only 13-of-22 free throws gave the Spartans little chance to win.
“We just couldn’t hit shots,” she said. “That first half was terrible. … I felt like we were getting good looks, we just weren’t finishing, (and we) dug ourselves a hole.”
Ohio State led by as many as 11 points, but MSU was able to mount a second half rally led senior forward Courtney Schiffauer — who led the team in scoring with 12 points and five rebounds — and freshman forward Becca Mills — who added 11 points and five rebounds off the bench.
But after a spinning layup by senior guard Porsché Poole with 2:54 to go cut Ohio State’s lead to three at 59-56, the Spartans were unable to grab the rebound they needed.
Ohio State grabbed the initial offensive rebound, and after misfiring again, Mills had the rebound stolen away from her, giving the Buckeyes a third chance to score.
Ohio State guard Samantha Prahalis — who finished with 15 points and hit a number of big shots throughout the game — made the mistake count, knocking down a jumper that put Ohio State up by five with 1:25 to go, and the shot proved to be the difference.
Despite playing one of the better games of her young career, Mills said there were a few plays she would like to have back.
“I think that I played well in most of the game, but toward the end in the last couple minutes I just didn’t make the best decisions,” said Mills, who referenced a couple of late game fouls and the missed rebound. “Those were big plays that I just didn’t come up with.”
Merchant elected to have Mills on the floor instead of senior forward Lykendra Johnson — the Big Ten’s leading rebounder — because Mills was a big part of the Spartans’ comeback.
Being stronger with the ball and securing rebounds are areas of improvement that Merchant said she has preached to Mills in the past.
“I said, ‘You get your hands on a lot of rebounds, but you don’t snatch it or (let) someone take it from you, and you’ve got to do a better job of that,‘” Merchant said. “So that was a pretty good situation right there where she could have stepped up and grabbed that ball, but instead, it’s a foul on us.”
Johnson finished with 10 points and seven rebounds and said she felt MSU was handled in the first half, and by the time the Spartans picked up their intensity in the second half, it was too late.
“They outworked us a little bit,” she said. “The only thing we can do is try to match that and in the second half I think we did match that, (but) in the first half we were flat.”
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