It was a night in which seemingly everything went right for the Spartans at Breslin Center.
That was evident when MSU women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant summoned Mariah Harris from the bench to check into her first game action since Dec. 16, 2012.
The freshman guard clocked in with 11:38 left in the game and promptly scored five points on her first two touches – each sending her teammates on the bench into a frenzy.
MSU went on to rout Indiana, 72-42, in the schools’ second meeting this season behind 16 points, five assists and four rebounds from junior guard Klarissa Bell on her 21st birthday. The victory lands the Spartans in a three-way tie for fourth-place in the Big Ten with Illinois and Saturday’s opponent, Michigan.
“It felt great. It’d suck to have a bad game on your birthday, it’d be like a little Debbie downer. So it was great,” Bell said.
“I mean my team was all there, they were cheering me on, that’s always nice. And just the support I got from the crowd — I kept hearing ‘Happy birthday K. Bell!’ (as) I was like running down the court. It’s just awesome, we have such a good fan base at Michigan State and I just really appreciate it.”
It was a dominant showing from the Spartans and one of the most complete games they’ve put together this season. MSU (19-5 overall, 7-4 Big Ten) out-rebounded the Hoosiers by nine, and owned the advantage in assists (19 to 6), turnovers (7 to 22), steals (11 to 3) and bench points.
“It was an opportunity for somebody else to get minutes and I believe Mariah had been doing a really nice job in practices,” Merchant said of Harris.
“I wanted to give her a chance, it was a good opportunity to do so. So I was happy for her that she came out and she did just a little bit of everything and that’s kind of her game.”
The overwhelming margin allowed Merchant to get 12 players checked into the game – a rare change from the standard eight-person rotation. Approximately the final four minutes of the game were logged by walk-ons that rarely see time in Big Ten action.
“You don’t always have that luxury in the Big Ten that’s for sure,” Merchant said of the lopsided score.
“But that is a point well taken and that was one of the first comments I made was just it’s nice to have a team victory where everybody gets to be part of it. A lot of the kids that don’t get to play all the time, it’s neat for them, it’s fun for them to get out there and get some minutes. They work just as hard as everybody else.”
The game began as a low-scoring, back-and-forth affair for the first few minutes but once the Spartans got in rhythm midway through the first half, there was no looking back.
MSU took its first 10-point lead on a Jasmine Thomas jumper during a 9-3 run during the final seven minutes of the first half. Indiana (10-15, 1-11) would never cut the MSU lead to single digits following Thomas’ shot.
Thomas, a senior guard, contributed five points to the momentum-building spurt that culminated in a 31-17 halftime lead for the Spartans. She finished with seven points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Hoosiers.
Bell and junior forward Annalise Pickrel, who finished with 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting, carried the burden for MSU in the first half. In the second, sophomore forward Becca Mills led a balanced scoring attack with 11 points after being shutout in the first 20 minutes.
The Spartans grew their lead to as much as 35 points with 5:41 left to play, which is roughly when Merchant took her foot off the pedal and started substituting players in that are used to wearing warmups the entire game.
“That’s important to us. That helps the chemistry of our team I think,” Pickrel said. “So I was really happy to see Mariah come in and kill it … and all the other girls too, that was a lot of fun.”
As it has for most of the season, MSU’s scrappy defense frustrated its opponent’s primary scorers. The latest victims were the Hoosiers’ Jasmine McGhee and Aulani Sinclair who went a combined 7-of-22 shooting for 15 points. The duo averages 11.8 and 16.3 points per game, respectively.
Reserve forward Linda Rubene led Indiana in scoring with 14 points.
Do you want the news without having to hunt for it?
Sign up for our morning s'newsletter. It's everything your friends are talking about and then some. And it's free!
The Spartans’ eyes now turn toward a rematch with rival Michigan in what will be their third game in seven days. MSU beat Michigan at home 61-46 on Feb. 4
“When you have three games in a week this was kind of a nice way to have the one in the middle, having an opportunity to spread some minutes around and rest some kids for a tough game on Saturday,” Merchant said.
Share and discuss “Balanced attack helps propel women's basketball to blowout win against Indiana” on social media.