Hoffman Estates, Ill. – The MSU women’s basketball team exorcised their demons against Michigan and top-seeded Penn State on Friday and Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament, but ran out of gas on Sunday against No. 3-seed Purdue, losing 62-47 in the championship game.
MSU, the No. 4-seed playing in its second-ever appearance in the finals, fought through an awful start resulting in just 14 first-half points to cut Purdue’s lead to nine with 5:53 remaining in the game. The Spartans were outscored 16-10 the rest of the way, however, allowing the Boilermakers to claim back-to-back tournament titles.
“I’m very proud of them,” head coach Suzy Merchant said.
“It’s just disappointing that, that wasn’t the team that showed up here the last two days, and it was frustrating. … And it was disappointing, but I give Purdue a lot of credit.”
The Boilermakers got off to a perfect start — literally — making their first eight field goals and going 4-for-4 from the foul line to build an early 20-8 lead. Purdue (24-8 overall) didn’t miss a shot in the first 8:20 of play.
Purdue forward Drey Mingo — who has terrorized MSU this season averaging 20.6 points against the Spartans — started 6-for-6 from the floor and finished with a season-high 24 points en route to being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“I thought Drey Mingo was amazing, absolutely amazing,” Merchant said.
For MSU (24-8), its start was the polar opposite. The Spartans shot just 21.9 percent from the field in the first half and scored only six points in the final 15:49.
After trailing by 23 at one point, MSU went into the break losing 33-14. No MSU player had more than four points in the first half.
“We weren’t playing our basketball,” senior guard Jasmine Thomas said. “I mean … (it) started on the defensive end, and that’s not where our focus was. So in the locker room we kind of talked about locking down defensively and slowing down offensively.”
Thomas was named to the all-tournament team after finishing with 15 points against the Boilermakers, while sophomore guard Kiana Johnson added 11 points to highlight a dismal offensive outing.
The second half began with a 23-13 run for MSU to pull within nine points, and momentum had finally swung in favor of the Spartans after the sluggish start at Sears Centre Arena.
Purdue’s Courtney Moses then countered with back-to-back 3-pointers to kill the MSU rally and give the Boilermakers a 52-37 lead with less than five minutes to play.
Mingo went on to score four-consecutive buckets to make sure the Spartans never cut the margin to less than 12.
“Once a kid is in the zone, it kind of just keeps going, and she definitely played incredible tonight,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said of Mingo.
Junior guard Klarissa Bell finished scoreless after going an uncharacteristic 0-for-9 from the floor. Bell was absent both figuratively and literally against Purdue as Merchant elected to sit the junior on the bench for the final three-plus minutes as MSU attempted a comeback.
MSU managed a spirited effort toward the conclusion by bringing the deficit back to single digits, but Purdue’s efficient start and late run proved to be too much of an obstacle, especially after sophomore forward Becca Mills fouled out with four minutes left.
“We just played very flat defensively, and I thought offensively, we had some good looks,” Merchant said. “… If we could have scored early, I think that puts more pressure on people to score at the other end, and they do go hand-in-hand. So (it) was just not our night.”
With 24 wins this season, the Spartans are a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament and will wait for Selection Monday a week from today to learn their seeding and opponent.
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