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Women's basketball recovers from close first half, pulls away from Rice

November 23, 2013
	<p>Junior forward Becca Mills shoots the ball Nov. 23, 2013, at the Breslin Center. <span class="caps">MSU</span> leads against Rice, 32-30 at the half. Margaux Forster/The State News</p>

Junior forward Becca Mills shoots the ball Nov. 23, 2013, at the Breslin Center. MSU leads against Rice, 32-30 at the half. Margaux Forster/The State News

After leading by only two points at halftime, the No. 21 MSU women’s basketball team made a 13-0 run midway through the second half that powered the Spartans through to an 81-68 win against Rice on Saturday night at Breslin Center.

Led by four players scoring in double-figures, MSU (4-1 overall) also saw the return of junior forward Madison Williams. Williams, who has had three anterior cruciate ligament tears in three years, played in her first game — her fourth career game — since Nov. 15, 2011.

In only five minutes, Williams scored six points, had one rebound, one steal and one block against Rice (3-3).

“Tonight was about getting her out there and getting her a chance to play with people around her a little bit; to get comfortable,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “You can obviously see why I’ve been so frustrated not having Madison Williams for the last three years.”

Junior forward Becca Mills led both teams with her season-high 20 points. Also scoring in double figures for MSU was junior guard Kiana Johnson (15), senior forward Annalise Pickrel (14) and senior guard Klarissa Bell (10).

Johnson also led with seven assists, followed by Bell’s six assists.
Early in the first half, Pickrel got into foul trouble with two fouls in two minutes. She sat the remainder of the half on the bench.

“When we don’t play with Annalise it makes it difficult, because Annalise is so versatile,” Merchant said. “She can post. She can fade. She can shoot. She can handle it. She just brings a sense of calm kind of to us. I thought we struggled in the first half without her.”

However, Pickrel came back with 12 second-half points and four rebounds. She finished 6-8 from the field and had five rebounds, along with a steal and an assist.

Merchant said playing without Pickrel hurt the team, but also thought the team lacked energy, especially on the defensive side.

In the first half, the Owls outrebounded MSU, 21-16, including 7-4 on offensive rebounds, something Merchant said “ridiculous.”

“We have to be more focused defensively than that,” Merchant said. “Rebounding wise we have to get better … I just don’t think our energy was there until the second half came.”

In the second half, Rice tied it right off the bat when forward Megan Palmer hit a layup, but back-to-back 3-pointers by senior guard Klarissa Bell and junior guard Kiana Johnson gave MSU the lead back, and the Spartans wouldn’t lose it again.

With less than 10 minutes left, the Owls shrunk the lead from to only four off a Alyssa Lang 3-pointer. However, MSU went on the 13-0 run thanks to layups by Bell, Pickrel, and Johnson to secure a large lead and hold on to win the game.
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Despite the win, however, the game’s biggest storyline was possibly the return of Williams.

The former McDonald’s All-American checked into the game with about 15 minutes left in the first half as the crowd erupted and gave a standing ovation.

She wasn’t perfect, but scored four points, as well as blocked a shot on the defensive end in only three minutes.

She returned in the second half for a second stint and scored another bucket and grabbed a rebound.

Although she only played five minutes, Merchant said Williams was only supposed to play two minutes in the game — one in the first and one in the second — but because she had to wait and call a timeout, her minutes got extended.

For Williams, it’s a long time coming.
“(It’s) such a huge weight off,” Williams said of finally being able to play in a game. “All I’m thinking right now is I’m so thankful. God is so good to me just that I can get out there and I’m safe. He kept me safe in that game.”

Though Williams’ plans still are undetermined in coming games, the Spartans next will face Temple on in Philadelphia.

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