In the MSU women’s basketball team’s 62-47 loss to Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, one player stood out above the rest – but she wasn’t a Spartan. One year ago, sixth year Purdue forward Drey Mingo stood on the sidelines in warm-ups as the Boilermakers won the Big Ten Tournament without her on the court. This season, she was named most outstanding player of the tournament.
“It feels amazing,” Mingo said. “I’ll never forget, (Purdue head) coach (Versyp) looked in my face after we won last year and said, we will get back. I’m so happy that we did. I’m elated right now.”
She finished the game with a season-high 24 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and a pair of steals. Mingo had a good season against MSU, scoring a season high at the Breslin Center in the Spartans 67-62 overtime loss in January, and 16 points in a 68-61 Spartan victory in West Lafayette in February. She chalked it up to having, and executing, a solid game plan in all three games. Senior guard Jasmine Thomas said Mingo never quits under the basket and that’s what makes her such a difficult matchup.
“We knew going in she was a hardworking post player, probably one of the hardest workers in the Big Ten,” Thomas said. “I mean, she just doesn’t stop. If she’s not open in one area, she’ll fight until she is.”
After transferring to Purdue following two seasons at Maryland, Mingo contracted bacterial meningitis that left her fully deaf in her left ear and only 40 percent in her right. She then tore her ACL in a scrimmage before the start of last season and was granted her sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
Merchant had to change her style to account for the talented forward. Merchant prefers man-to-man defense to zone, and said it was hard for her to pull the trigger and switch to 3-2 zone.
“We probably could have gone to zone earlier,” she said. “When I see zone, I see open opportunities for (Purdue guard) Courtney Moses, and she got away from us finally over time.”
Merchant didn’t switch to zone until the second half, and when she did the Spartans forced a turnover and a missed layup on the first two possessions. But Mingo established her presence early, scoring 14 points in the first half — the same as the entire Spartan team combined. After the game, Mingo went to Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp and gave her a hug that picked her right off the floor.
“She didn’t suck the life out of me,” Versyp said. “She’s an inspiration, and I’m just so happy that things worked out the way it did for her and our team. She put more life into me, because she just – she’s a walking miracle.”
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