After Saturday’s loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten semifinals, senior forward Annalise Pickrel wanted to focus on the positives of the Big Ten Tournament, such as the strong play of the freshmen in both games.
Pickrel’s reasoning is not a surprise. For stretches of the tournament, MSU’s trio of freshmen seemed to be the only Spartans who could hit a shot.
After Pickrel’s strong first half against Michigan last Friday, it was freshman guard Tori Jankoska and redshirt freshman guard Branndais Agee who willed the Spartans to ?victory in the second half.
Jankoska, who finished with 14 points and five assists, drove to the rim with 1:15 left in the game to give MSU a 59-58 lead. The Spartans trailed Michigan by 14 during the first half.
Jankoska isn’t necessarily ?a natural point guard, but that’s the position she’s played since junior guard Kiana Johnson’s indefinite suspension.
“It’s not her natural position, it’s not something she came here to do,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “But given ?the circumstances, it is what it is. We’ve had many players who have been in that situation and have tried and been resilient, and she’s one of them. She’s ?a high character kid, and I think high character kids will do whatever it takes for the team.”
Agee delivered the finishing blows against Michigan, picking up a steal and a putback in the remaining time to help MSU leave Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a 61-58 comeback win.
Agee arguably was MSU’s best player against Nebraska, scoring a career-high 18 points. Merchant steadily increased Agee’s role towards the end of the regular season, enabling Agee to have two of the ?best games of her career ?during the tournament.
“I give Branndais credit, ?it’s not an easy pill to swallow when you’re watching two ?of the three freshmen start, play a lot of minutes and you’re just trying to fight for yours,” Merchant said, referring ?to starters Jankoska and redshirt freshman Aerial Powers. “But since there’s been a transition there with Kiana, she’s really taken advantage ?and sparked us in many games.”
Powers submitted a clunker of a performance against ?Michigan, but bounced back with 10 points and 12 rebounds against Nebraska.
“I really think that Aerial got us going and Branndais played a great game tonight once again,” senior guard ?Klarissa Bell said after the Nebraska loss. “I think that their ?energy got us going a little bit.”
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