Indianapolis – The MSU women’s basketball team didn’t get a bye in the first-round of the Big Ten Tournament, but playing Indiana may have been the next best thing.
On a night where seemingly every shot they put up was destined to fall, the Spartans (20-10 overall, 11-5 Big Ten) blew the doors off Indiana (6-24, 1-15), knocking off the Hoosiers 97-68 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Ten Spartans played eight minutes or more, and with a young team, led by a freshman point guard in Kiana Johnson, head coach Suzy Merchant said the opportunity for her young players to get their feet wet on a big stage was extremely valuable.
“I thought it was big,” she said. “The one thing we talked to (junior guard Jasmine Thomas) about was Kiana’s never been here before, as good as she is making the All-Freshman Team. … We didn’t anticipate anything but her best effort and for her to be the player she’s been, but you just don’t know.”
Nearly every Spartan looked comfortable, in part because of the leadership of senior forward Lykendra Johnson, who scored the game’s first four points and help MSU set the tone with an early 6-1 lead.
Lykendra Johnson only played eight minutes, but Merchant said she could tell the senior had a “look in her eye” during the game’s opening minutes.
“It’s huge for a young team’s confidence,” Lykendra Johnson said. “We believe in them.”
Four Spartans scored in double-figures, led by senior guard Porschè Poole’s 17 points and three assists and senior forward Taylor Alton’s 14 points and four rebounds.
With her team off to a strong start, head coach Suzy Merchant turned to her bench, but MSU struggled to maintain an offensive rhythm.
After seeing MSU’s lead cut to one, Merchant went back to her starters, and the Spartans went on a 13-0 run to extend their lead to 21-7 with 10:37 to go in the first half.
Alton and sophomore guard Klarissa Bell led the charge, combining for 11 of the 13 points during the run and Bell said when one player starts knocking down shots the team is able to feed off of it.
“When we’re doing well on offense it just brings so much good energy,” she said. “Everyone (was) feeling it, we (weren’t) nervous at all and when people are hitting shots, everyone starts hitting.”
MSU shot 33-for-65 (50.8 percent) from the floor and 10-for-19 (52.6 percent) from beyond the arc and got 45 points from the bench, including 17 points and six rebounds from freshman center Jasmine Hines.
It was smooth sailing for the Spartans the rest of the half, as Poole closed out the period in style, draining a buzzer-beating jump shot from the free-throw line to send MSU to the locker room in front, 41-26.
MSU’s hot shooting continued into the second half, as the Spartans exploded with a 15-6 run to open up a 24-point lead, 60-36, with 15:40 to go in the game.
MSU made five consecutive 3-pointers during the run, including two apiece from Poole and Alton, to blow the game open and Poole said it helped to be in an early rhythm.
“We just took what the defense gave us,” she said. “Today we happened to be on, usually we drive to the basket … but today we just happened to be open for three and we hit them.”
From there the rout was on, as MSU used 17-4 run to extend the lead to 34 points, 77-43, with 9:05 to go in the game.
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