College Park, Md. — After answering questions at the podium, Taylor Alton, with tears in her eyes, returned to the locker room and sat next to fellow senior forward Lykendra Johnson.
It was the final time the duo would wear their MSU jerseys, and as Alton sat in her chair, emotionally drained from the afternoon, her fellow captain put her arm around her and the two rocked back and forth, talking of their time at MSU.
On Saturday, the curtain closed on the MSU careers of Alton, Johnson and senior guard Porschè Poole, as the No. 10-seed MSU women’s basketball team (20-12) fell to No. 7-seed Louisville (23-9) 67-55 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The trio took diverging paths to reach Saturday’s somber locker room, but they will leave it united, having grown and matured together through four sensational years that pushed each of them and the basketball program to new heights that might not otherwise have been reached.
For Alton, it started with traveling from across the country to convince head coach Suzy Merchant to give her a chance and turning herself into one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in program history.
For Poole, it was about fulfilling the potential her mother and Merchant always knew was within her, and becoming the first Spartan to score 60 points over a two-game span, with the final two points coming from the top of the key at Crisler Arena to knock off Michigan in the game’s final seconds.
It’s moments like the game-winner against U-M and helping MSU capture the program’s first outright conference championship a year ago, that Poole said she hopes foster a winning culture at MSU.
“I’ve got a Big Ten Championship in the four years I’ve been here, and I’m sure we’re going to get plenty more,” she said. “(I) Just (want to leave) a winning mentality, winning seasons and (finishing) first or second in the Big Ten every year I’ve been here. I’m sure the people under me are going to continue to keep that going.”
And for Lykendra Johnson it was the life-changing adjustment of going from team mom, to real life mom, after giving birth to daughter Destinie Roe in August 2011 and returning to the physical condition that allowed her to become the sixth player in program history to be recognized as an All-Big Ten performer for four consecutive years.
“The last two years have been up and down for me,” Johnson said. “I think I’ve left an imprint on the program and that was my goal … to help my teammates out whenever I (could).”
One of those teammates was freshman guard Kiana Johnson, who developed a particularly strong bond with Lykendra Johnson and credits the leadership of the senior class for helping her become an All-Big Ten performer as a freshman.
“I basically latched onto them when I came in, and so it’s hard to see them lose,” Kiana Johnson said. “I wanted to go out and fight for them, (and) get the seniors a win because I have next year, and they don’t. I wanted them to leave out with a bang.”
And although the ending wasn’t what the trio had hoped for — combining for 17 points on 7-of-25 shooting (28 percent) — those numbers will soon be forgotten and in their place will be the legacy of being Merchant’s first recruiting class — a group that helped change the program.
“I’m not sure it was their best performance, and that’s never how you want that to go, but we are really proud of what they accomplished this season,” Merchant said. “They certainly helped us get to a place where we needed to be.”
Josh Mansour is the basketball reporter for The State News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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