Following Sunday’s loss at No. 8 Penn State in arguably the biggest game of the regular season for the MSU women’s basketball team, head coach Suzy Merchant tried to embrace the positives.
“There were stretches where I thought we played really well. The thing is you can’t give it back to them, and we gave it back to them too many times. It’s hard to defend them in transition and that was the difference,” Merchant said of Sunday’s 71-56 loss. The Spartans lost their first contest with Penn State by 21 points.
“Our kids played better, we fought harder … so I liked that we just kept battling and battling, we just didn’t play as well as we needed to to get the win.”
With four conference losses, MSU’s remote chances of winning the Big Ten likely are gone. As one of five teams with four or fewer Big Ten losses, the Spartans’ four-year streak of finishing in second place or better still is alive.
Better with age
Merchant challenged her pair of senior starters, guard Jasmine Thomas and forward Courtney Schiffauer, two weeks ago after the Spartans lost consecutive games for the first and only time this season.
The duo’s response in the last three games has resulted in them recording numbers north of their season averages in points and rebounds. Thomas is averaging 10.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game during that stretch while Schiffauer’s averages are at 7.6 and eight.
“I’d like to see a little more consistent scoring out of them, I think we could use that, “Merchant said.
“But I like how they’re leading, I like how they’re competing. I think they’re fully engaged and working really hard, but they still have another gear, every kid does. So I think there’s more in the tank as we hit the last six games (for) those two.”
With six games remaining in the regular season, Merchant contends that fatigue isn’t weighing the Spartans down despite utilizing an eight-person rotation, at most, for the entirety of the Big Ten season.
Four players average at least 30 minutes per game, with sophomore guard Kiana Johnson just below at 29.4. The two sophomore post players, center Jasmine Hines and forward Becca Mills, essentially split the 40 minutes between them most nights.
“We have some really superior athletes on this team and they’re 18- to 22-year-old kids, I mean sometimes we forget that a little bit,” Merchant said.
“We have been able to have a good balance of pushing (and) at the same time backing off. I don’t think these kids are spent in any way, shape or form. I guess if they are you’ll see it on the court, but I haven’t seen that. I thought our effort was really,
really good against Penn State, we just came up short. We needed a few more players to step up and score
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