MSU played its first regular season game against Eastern Michigan on Sunday afternoon , and the Eagles put up quite a fight before the Spartans pulled away for a 69-61 win.
“I knew it was gonna be a game,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “Every time we’ve played them, it’s been very close games. ... People come at you when it’s a Superbowl situation.”
MSU got out to an energetic start en route to a 7-1 lead, as redshirt sophomore forward Aerial Powers nailed a three on MSU’s opening possession.
Eastern applied full-court pressure and picked up a few easy steals on the defensive end and had a momentum swing of its own. The Eagles took their first lead with 13 minutes remaining in the half, when sophomore guard Janay Morton drained a three to put EMU on top, 9-8.
The half went back and forth, as EMU’s press continued to cause problems for MSU. Merchant believes the struggles stemmed from the fact that the Spartans do not have a clear floor general at this point of the season.
“I knew we were gonna struggle with it,” Merchant said of the press. “We don’t have anybody right now that really wants that role in a commanding presence.”
MSU entered halftime leading 34-28, despite shooting just 28.6 percent on first half field goal attempts.
Powers dominated the first half, tallying 12 points and 10 rebounds for her second straight double-double. Like the rest of her team, Powers struggled making shots, going 3-10 from the field in the first half.
“We just couldn’t hit shots at first,” Powers said. “I think we were trying to shoot too much to begin with. Then we kind of settled down and got in our rhythm, and we were able to finally get the ball over court and get into our set plays.”
Eastern scored the first four points of the second half, but Powers answered for the Spartans with four points of her own.
After first half shooting struggles, MSU sophomore guard Tori Jankoska made some big plays in the second half and helped MSU to its largest lead of the game, 54-40. Jankoska fed Mills in the post with a perfect pass over the top on one possession, and the next time down, Jankoska ran the floor and finished a contested layup.
Again though, the Eagles hung in the game with its full court pressure. Janay Morton picked off a Spartan pass with just 6:49 remaining, and converted the easy layup, trimming MSU’s lead to six.
EMU cut the deficit to four before senior guard Anna Morrissey drilled a pivotal three pointer from the corner. Just seconds later, she came up with a steal on defense to stop Eastern’s offensive momentum.
“I think my teammates did a great job of setting up plays and getting out players in good opportunities,” Morrissey said.
The Eagles kept it a game down the stretch, but when the final buzzer sounded, MSU won 69-61. Powers and Jankoska finished with 20 points each for the Spartans.
In the first game of the regular season, MSU faced adversity, but Merchant believes that it could be beneficial going forward.
“You’re playing teams that are well coached, and they might do it differently, but certainly it’s an opportunity for them to play their best,” Merchant said. “I’m glad we played Eastern Michigan. ... I like that they always come well prepared and with a lot of aggression. It helps us in the end.”