Grand Valley State was no match for No. 20 MSU women’s basketball team on Sunday afternoon at Breslin Center, with MSU picking up its second preseason win, 91-47.
The Lakers hung in the game for much of the first half, trailing by only a few points, but the Spartans started pulling away in the final three minutes of the half thanks to 3-pointers by junior guard Kiana Johnson and freshman guard Tori Jankoska.
MSU came out of halftime with an intense energy by playing suffocating defense, which allowed only one field goal in the first 11 minutes of the second half while scoring 14 unanswered points.
The tight defense included two steals by senior guard Klarissa Bell, one of which led to a fastbreak layup.
“We were really sluggish out of the gates and that’s when we decided we need to start getting ourselves going a little bit,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “So we went back and forth with our three-quarters, quarter and our full court. We’re still learning it, it’s not something we do very, very well, but it’s something that get’s our pace going.”
The entire offense dominated with six Spartans reaching double-digit points. The unselfish offensive attack was led by junior forward Becca Mills. She dominated in the post scoring 18 points going 9-11 on field goals while playing just 24 minutes.
Jankoska (13 points), redshirt freshman guard Aerial Powers (17), Bell (11), senior forward Annalise Pickrel (12) and Johnson (10) also had at least 10 points.
Mills, Johnson and redshirt freshman guard Branndais Agee all had to be taken out midway through the first half because of foul trouble, but all came back to produce. Johnson helped lead the team’s passing attack, along with Powers, with five assists each. Johnson also helped with two 3-pointers of her own.
The Spartans finished with 25 assists led by Johnson’s and Powers’ five assists. Pickrel and Bell each had four assists.
Despite the strong pressure by the defense in the second half, Merchant said the defense still needs to improve.
“We have three kids out there, newcomers and freshman, that are still trying to figure it out a little bit,” Merchant said. “Definitely the offensive side is their strength, so the defensive side is something they’re building on and getting better at it. (There’s) a lot to work on for sure with Notre Dame basically a week from (Monday).”
Sunday’s exhibition was the final tune-up match before MSU faces No. 7 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., in its regular season opener on Nov. 11.
GVSU was led by guard Janelle McQueen, who scored 12 points and 8 rebounds. Laker guard Meryl Cripe also pitched in with 10 points.
After a shaky performance against Ferris State last Wednesday, Powers played much better posting a line of 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists. She also had a pair of steals, one of which she finished for a fast break layup.
Powers, who missed all of last season because of a torn Achilles tendon, said after Ferris State she felt she was all over the place and was anxious for her first college basketball game.
“Before the game, I try to calm myself down because like I said last game, I was literally so anxious I was hyperventilating on the court,” Powers said. “I just tried to do my best before the game to calm myself down and when I got out there just play my game.”
Merchant said she had to work with Powers on the defensive side of the ball first, but thought she did well offensively Sunday.
“She gets caught a little bit in her own mind and what’s going on around her and she tends to hesitate,” Merchant said. “Aerial’s best when she’s playing instinctively and I thought she did that tonight. I thought she was aggressive, but didn’t force things, she brings a lot of dimension to us in the press.”
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