Ann Arbor, Mich. – Now that was how a rivalry game should be.
Despite 21 points in a heroic effort from guard Jasmine Thomas in the senior’s final regular season match up with archrival Michigan, it wasn’t enough to end her Spartan career undefeated against the Wolverines.
Michigan (19-6 overall, 8-4 Big Ten) broke its 12-game losing streak to MSU on Sunday afternoon with a dramatic 70-69 win in front of a sellout crowd at Crisler Center. The Spartans (19-6, 7-5) previously bested the Wolverines in the first game on Feb. 4 by a score of 61-46.
MSU’s last loss to U-M was a 64-55 decision on Jan. 13, 2008.
“It’s disappointing. It was a great basketball game, it could have gone either way,” head coach Suzy Merchant said.
“I hate losing. I hate losing to anybody, certainly Michigan. But like I said there’s been some good battles back and forth, we’ve just been lucky to be on the other side. So now we know what it feels like a little bit.”
Thomas fought valiantly until the end, snatching three rebounds and recording three assists to go along with her scoring. She played 40 minutes and was the clutch player MSU needed in the waning moments to keep the margin manageable – scoring from all over the floor.
“It’s always frustrating, especially when you come in here to Michigan and just the streak we had going and the fact that it’s the senior’s last go-around,” a dejected Thomas said afterward. “Definitely not the position you want to be in headed out with this being the last time playing them.
“Shots were just falling tonight. Teammates got me there with assists. I don’t know, it was just the fight. I was trying … to do anything and everything whether it was assisting, defense, rebounding. It just wasn’t enough still.”
Merchant praised the determination of U-M’s senior class, specifically guards Kate Thompson and Jenny Ryan, to not end their careers winless against the Spartans.
Thompson helped the Wolverines jump out to an early 15-8 lead behind her 4-for-4 shooting start. Junior guard Klarissa Bell got the best of her in the first matchup from a defensive standpoint, but Thompson dropped 20 points Sunday in the rematch.
Ryan scored a career-high 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists with no turnovers.
“Our defense and rebounding was not what it normally is and we’re a much better team – we needed to be a much better team defensively,” Merchant said. “And I think out of the gates, especially, if we could have stopped Kate Thompson out of the gates and frustrated her a little bit more it’s a different game. I really believe that, and when she got it going it was like all of a sudden everybody has confidence.”
Similar to the last time MSU traveled to Ann Arbor in which the Spartans won on a last-second shot, this episode of the rivalry was intense to the final second.
Sophomore forward Becca Mills headed to the foul line with an opportunity to tie the game down two points with 1:02 remaining. Instead, Mills split the pair and U-M’s Nya Jordan scored an inside bucket on the next possession to put the Wolverines ahead 66-63.
On MSU’s next possession, senior forward Courtney Schiffauer missed a layup and the Spartans were forced to foul Ryan, who went on to sink a pair of free throws.
Unlike Thomas, Schiffauer had a disappointing final crack at the Wolverines. She was relegated to the bench for the majority of the first half with two early fouls and notched only three points in 21 minutes.
Thomas’ 3-point attempt with 11 seconds left the next trip down was no good, but sophomore guard Kiana Johnson’s was with five seconds to go and the score at 68-66.
Ryan was fouled again, and again, she converted a pair of free throws.
With four seconds remaining down by four, Johnson hustled down to hit another triple at the buzzer, but it would prove worthless.
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“Really disappointing, especially for our seniors,” said Bell, who had 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
“You just don’t want that to happen. You know, you want them to be happy their last game here to be undefeated against Michigan. So that was hard just watching how disappointed they were.”
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