After spending the extended Thanksgiving weekend in the Bahamas, where they defeated Cincinnati but suffered their first loss of the season against No. 5 Baylor in the Junkanoo Jam, the No. 19 ranked Spartans (4-2) were upset at home by the unranked Louisville Cardinals (2-4) by a final score of 85-78.
The Cardinals sprinted out of the gates early and never looked back, leading for 39 minutes of Thursday’s contest. Louisville drew first blood when sophomore guard Mariya Moore made a 3-pointer and held the lead for the remainder of the game.
“We just weren’t focused,” junior point guard Tori Jankoska said after Thursday’s game. “We weren’t hitting the open man and there were a bunch of easy passes we just didn’t make. We need someone to step up, be a leader and keep everybody together and that’s usually my job and I just didn’t do it tonight.”
A mix of missed scoring chances by MSU and a Cardinal offense, which, was on fire the first half proved to be a fatal concoction for the Spartans. Albeit, MSU’s first half shooting stats didn’t look bad by any stretch of the imagination, as they made half their 3-pointers in the first half and had a 41.9 percent field goal rate, they were no match for the Louisville offense, which came alive and found its stride, shooting 66.7 percent from behind the arc and 64.7 percent from the field in the first half.
The Spartans weren’t helping their own cause either. They turned the ball over 12 times in the first half. By halftime there were three Cardinal players with over ten points, Briahanna Jackson with 11 and Asia Durr and Mariya Moore each with 10.
As the game progressed, Louisville came back to Earth a bit and finished the game shooting 47.1 percent from three and 52.7 percent from the field. MSU wouldn’t go down without a fight and at one point was only down by one point. The Spartans nagged the Cardinals until the very end but turnovers proved to be the Spartan’s downfall with a whopping 27 in total.
“A lot of our turnovers came from post players today which that to me is really uncharacteristic,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “At that point a bad shot is better than a turnover, I mean just shoot the ball… Give them (Louisville) a lot of credit I think we played very passively and they played very aggressively.”
Five Spartans tallied for 70 of the team’s 78 points. Junior forward Aerial Powers led the way with 21 points and six assists, and redshirt sophomore Branndais Agee had 17 points and four rebounds.
And if Thursday’s loss wasn’t sour enough for the Spartans, Powers appeared to go down after she landed awkwardly on her foot coming down from an attempted layup, grabbing at her foot, just below her ankle. The worst case scenario for Powers and the Spartans is that she injured her Achilles, an injury which had been giving her problems earlier in the season. The status of her injury has not yet been released.
But even if Powers is out for an extended period of time, the Spartans are used to playing without the luxury of depth and were in similar situations much of last season.
“We started the year without her (Powers),” Jankoska said. “We practiced for a couple months without her so we’re prepared without her… I wouldn’t say we’re okay without her but we’re prepared.”
The Spartans will take the next few days to gather themselves while they get ready to take on Loyola on Sunday, with tip-off set for 2 p.m.