"Anything you can do I can do better." That was the feel Sunday afternoon in the heart of a Big Ten Tournament-seeding game, as MSU's Aerial Powers and Minnesota's Rachel Banham combined for 92 points.
The Golden Gophers' senior guard Banham put up 52 points against No. 25-ranked MSU, with seven assists and five rebounds. MSU junior guard Powers was nearly as stellar with 40 points, eight assists and six boards of her own. Banham might have put up the better numbers, but Powers came away from Sunday’s contest with the victory. Also of note, MSU junior guard Tori Jankoska more than helped the Spartans' cause with 24 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds. The Spartans topped Minnesota by a final score of 114-106 and now have lone possession of third place in the Big Ten.
“She can shoot,” Powers said. “She can really shoot the ball. … She’s just a great scorer altogether.”
Banham’s performance against the Spartans was a historic one. Coming into the game on Sunday, Banham only needed 50 points to pass former Penn State shooter Kelly Mazzante to become the leading scorer in Big Ten history. Now with 2,921 career points, Banham is “only” 472 points away from becoming the leading scorer in NCAA history.
“It felt good to get the record,” Banham said. “Of course, it would have been better if we would have pulled out the win, but it still felt good. Whatever I was throwing up seemed to just be going in, so that is always fun. I am just happy to be able to come back off an injury and be able to play the way I am. I honestly didn’t know how close I was to it, so I found out right after. I had no idea.”
Both Banham and Powers are the faces of their teams. They’re sharpshooting, durable offensive machines who rank among the nation’s best.
After her 52-point performance on Sunday, Banham is now averaging 27.5 points per game, which is good enough to rank her first in the Big Ten and second in the country, only behind Wagner’s Jasmine Nwajei. Powers’ 40-point performance brings her up to 21.7 points per game, which puts her fourth in the conference and ties her for 14th in the country.
“That kid (Banham) is good,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “ I don’t know teams that I’ve coached where anybody has scored 40 or more points on us. In this case we were ready, we were doubling her on (defense) and she was still hitting them… She’s the real deal and she’s literally putting her team on her back.”
The Spartans knew that they would have a long day ahead of them with Minnesota’s offense averaging 82.8 points per game, but it’s easy to say that Banham’s performance was overwhelming.
“Like coach said, she’s a shot maker not a shot taker,” Jankoska said. “We were playing pretty solid defense in the first half but she got away from us with a couple of wide-open looks. … You play as good of defense you can, limit the other players and try and come out with a win.”
MSU and Minnesota came into Sunday with a winner-take-all mentality. Both schools were tied for third in the Big Ten with only two more games to play in the regular season. This is important to keep in mind because the first four seeds in the conference get a two round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Those extra few days of rest can be a luxury—after all, it’s easier to win three games in a row rather than five.
“We needed this win to get in position for the postseason,” Powers said. “Since I’ve been here I don’t think we’ve had a double-bye yet, and we need that. It’s good for your body. Most of the teams that usually go far have that double-bye and they have a good chance (to win) because of that.”