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MSU women's basketball makes deep run in Big Ten Tournament

March 13, 2016
Head coach Suzy Merchant reacts to a call during the women's basketball Big Ten Tournament semifinals game against Ohio State University on March 5, 2016 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes, 82-63
Head coach Suzy Merchant reacts to a call during the women's basketball Big Ten Tournament semifinals game against Ohio State University on March 5, 2016 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Spartans defeated the Buckeyes, 82-63 —
Photo by Nic Antaya | and Nic Antaya The State News

Head coach Suzy Merchant and the Spartans have had a successful campaign this season. MSU has been led on the court by redshirt junior forward Aerial Powers and junior guard Tori Jankoska and the team’s hard work has translated into success, propelling it all season. As one of the top teams in the nation, the Spartans have proven they’re a force to be reckoned with. Despite their disappointing 60-44 loss to top-seeded Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, the No. 16 MSU women’s basketball team still has a lot to look forward to with March Madness right around the corner.

MSU’s 13-5 Big Ten regular season record earned the Spartans a third-place seed in the conference tournament. That resulted in a double-bye through the first two rounds, which gave MSU six days of rest and readied the team to play the Purdue Boilermakers March 4.

In their opening game of the Big Ten Tournament, the Spartans skated away with a narrow 65-64 victory over the Boilermakers. MSU looked sluggish out of the gate, tallying just four assists through two quarters. But a resurgence during the second half helped MSU live to see another day, as the Spartans more than doubled their first half assists total with 10 and started efficiently communicating on the defensive end.

The Spartans were able to sustain that energy March 5 against the No. 2-seed Ohio State University Buckeyes. MSU was on the offensive from the tipoff. The Spartans took advantage of a banged up Buckeyes team to advance to the Big Ten championship game by a final score of 82-63. The Spartans led by as much as 36 points on Saturday, with Powers and Jankoska combining for 54 points.

“And even though we didn’t have everybody going when we played Purdue, it showed that we can will ourselves to a win,” Powers said. “So, we just have to continue to have a good mentality throughout the NCAA Tournament.”

As the Spartans were making their way through the tournament, so was conference-leading No. 1-seed Maryland. The No. 5-ranked Terrapins came into the tournament boasting a 16-2 conference record and some of the best offensive numbers in the nation. Maryland was ranked fourth in the NCAA in total offense, averaging about 84 points per game and third in the nation with a plus-24.3 scoring margin, which held true and resulted in defeat for the Spartans during the championship game on March 6.

“Well, we didn’t play well at all (Sunday),” Merchant said. “But I thought we were battling the first half and then just really came unraveled in the second. They outhustled us and outworked us. In the second half, we were just a little flat, and that was frustrating.”

Going into halftime MSU had a two-point advantage on the Terps, leading 26-24. The Terrapins, however, outscored MSU 36-18 during the second half to clinch their second consecutive Big Ten title by a final score of 60-44. Jankoska was the only Spartan to finish with double-digit points, as she ended the game with 12 points. As a team, the Spartans shot 18-for-56 from the field, finishing the game shooting 32.1 percent.

“They’re extremely physical,” Jankoska said. “So you have to match that. We did in the first half. And in the second half, we just didn’t.”

Two wins against a top-10 Ohio State team combined with a 24-win season have proven MSU is undoubtedly one of the best teams in the nation. Their two wins during the Big Ten Tournament helped move the Spartans’ national rank from No. 19 to No. 16.

“We just beat the No. 9 team in the country, and we were up 36 yesterday,” Jankoska said after the championship game March 6. “So it’s not like this whole weekend is a downer for us. ... We have to learn from our mistakes we made in the second half and then move forward and take our mistakes and not do them again in the NCAA Tournament.”

Final seeding for the NCAA Tournament will be released at 7 p.m. March 14. The first round begins Friday.

“For me, when I look at the NCAA Tournament, I feel like we have opportunities to do some things,” Merchant said. “We can morph ourselves into whatever we need to have said about our team. We can defend people, if it’s in play that way. We have been able to put a lot of points on the board at times, and we needed to be playing against Minnesota and Ohio State. So our team has been able to be a little chameleon-like in terms of its ability to morph into what had to happen.”

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