On a cold and snowy November night, No. 14 MSU and No. 3 Notre Dame kept Breslin Center toasty for 40 minutes of basketball, but the Irish pulled away towards the end, securing a 71-63 victory.
The two teams got out to a quick start, as MSU sophomore guard Tori Jankoska drilled two threes before the first media timeout. Notre Dame’s standout junior guard Jewell Loyd scored eight of her team’s first ten points.
Scoring slowed down a bit after the first media timeout, and MSU and Notre Dame exchanged leads for the rest of the half.
The Spartan defense kept Notre Dame’s highly-touted freshman forward Brianna Turner in check, holding her to zero first half points.
Notre Dame outscored the Spartans 14-6 in the paint in the first half, but MSU actually won the rebound battle 24-22, something Merchant was concerned about heading into the game.
“We definitely did have a point to prove,” sophomore forward Aerial Powers said. “When they were in warmups, they were just like whatever it’s just another game. We put em back on their heels at one point.”
Turner erupted in the second half for the Irish, scoring her team’s first ten points of the half. She ended up with 17 points in the game.
After 13 first half points, Powers continued to work around the rim in the second half and slashed to the basket, finishing the game with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
“That kid is amazing,” Merchant said. “She just has this presence about her, she’s ultracompetitive….she just can take it to another level. It’s fun to watch that kid do that.”
MSU senior forward Becca Mills picked up her fourth foul with 11:39 left in the half, and went to the bench for the next five minutes, leaving the Spartans thin in the post. She fouled out about two minutes later, with 4:59 remaining.
Mills and her low post partner senior center Jasmine Hines combined for only seven points and nine rebounds in the game.
“We needed Becca and Jas,” Merchant said. “That was a big part of our game plan, was to go at em inside….We really need those guys to have solid games. Don’t have to be great, just attack them and kind of finish inside, get to the free throw line and finish there. That was disappointing. I know they were disappointed in themselves.
MSU had problems controlling the ball all night long, recording 16 total team turnovers. Notre Dame took advantage of those sloppy mistakes, and jumped to a nine point lead after an MSU shot clock violation. The Irish extended that lead to 11, and never really eased up the rest of the half.
MSU shot 15-28 from the free throw line, a number that certainly plagued the Spartans.
“We gotta make sure we fix that,” Jankoska said. “We make those tonight and we win the game. I think that just goes to show that it really does make a difference in the game.”
Hanging with the third-ranked Irish could be perhaps the early encouragement that the team is looking for, Powers said.
“We can do anything we put our mind to,” Powers said. “We can do anything as long as we work hard and we have to stay together as a team. Seeing how we played today shows our ability and our will..it should give us more confidence than we have.”
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