Heading into Sunday’s game, head coach Suzy Merchant warned her team that its six wins in the last seven games would be meaningless if MSU didn’t finish the regular season strong.
The MSU women’s basketball team (19-10 overall, 11-5 Big Ten) proved up to the challenge on Sunday, defeating Northwestern 76-57 in the regular season finale to finish in a four-way tie for second-place in the conference standings.
Four Spartans scored in double figures, led by senior guard Porschè Poole with 22 points and six rebounds and senior forward Lykendra Johnson, who added 14 points and nine rebounds against the Wildcats (14-15, 4-12).
Johnson’s nine rebounds gave her 1,001 for her career, making her the 13th player in Big Ten history to score more than 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds in a career.
Several members of the senior forward’s family and friends were in attendance, and Johnson, a Chicago native, said having them in the stands made the accomplishment especially sweet.
“It means a lot,” she said. “To come and play in front of your family and friends, you’re going to bring your A-game or try to play as best as you can, and playing in front of them can give you a little bit more motivation. So I was just trying to do it for them and do it for my team.”
The game opened in a similar manner to the teams’ first meeting this season, with Northwestern center Dannielle Diamant scoring nine of her team’s first 11 points, as part of a 7-2 run to give the Wildcats an early lead.
The game remained close for most of the first half with 14 lead changes and neither team able to secure a lead of more than four points, but it was Johnson keeping the Spartans in front with 12 first-half points.
Despite struggling to find offensive rhythm in the first half — shooting 12-for-31 (38.7 percent) — MSU took a 33-29 lead into halftime after Poole banked a runner off the glass with 14 seconds remaining in the half.
Poole said the basket to end the half helped her find a rhythm, as the senior guard tallied seven of MSU’s first nine points with MSU opening the second half on a 9-2 run to give the team its first double-digit lead, 42-31.
“It was definitely big,” Poole said of the play to end the half. “In the first half, we were letting them set up in their zone (defense), but in the second half, we were more aggressive getting into their zone and attacking them.”
Freshman forward Becca Mills kept the run going with 12 points and extending the Spartans lead to 23 points, as MSU outscored Northwestern 25-6 to open the second half, with Poole and Mills combining for 21 of the 25 points and putting the game out of reach.
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