On Sunday afternoon the No. 24 MSU women’s basketball team played an exhibition game against Northwood University. The Spartans started slowly both offensively and defensively, but were able to pull away with an 82-47 victory with the help of the chemistry of freshman guard Taryn McCutcheon and senior guard Tori Jankoska.
In the beginning of the first quarter, Northwood went on a 9-0 run and head coach Suzy Merchant said the defense looked confused on the court.
“We were really soft in the paint, I thought early on, and we didn’t really fight to get around,” Merchant said. “You have to give (Northwood) credit, it’s their Super Bowl and we were a little bit flat. After that timeout, I thought we kind of handled ourselves back where we needed to get.”
Northwood shot 32.1 percent in the first half, but with graduate transfer forward Taya Reimer and sophomore forward Jenna Allen on defense, they were able to hold Northwood to only seven points in the second quarter. MSU's defense also forced 23 turnovers and several shot-clock violations throughout the game.
Before the end of the third quarter, there was a collision on the court between Northwood’s Jordyn Nurenberg and Allen. With blood on the floor, Allen left the game with a chipped tooth and did not return. Nurenberg also sustained an injury after the collision — she was bleeding from her head.
After Allen departed, sophomore forward Hana Vesela took her place. Vesela played 21 minutes and ended the game with four total rebounds and 11 points. Merchant said the 6-foot-5 Vesela has the ability to score on the block and can extend her defense with her ability to pick-and-pop.
“I got a lot of minutes compared to last year, and to see that my confidence level is up,” Vesela said. “It was really nice to see the trust from coaches, and after Jenna got hurt we played with three post-players.”
MSU also had to make due without Morgan Green, who was dismissed from the team for undisclosed reasons. The Spartans seemed to have found a reliable replacement in freshman guard McCutcheon. McCutcheon played 32 minutes in her first collegiate game, and finished with three defensive rebounds, eight points, 11 assists, and two steals, but also turned the ball over twice.
“It’s unbelievable," McCutcheon said. "It even seems unreal now still, I mean the game is over and it still feels like, 'Wow I just played my first game at Michigan State.' It’s so exciting, I mean I can't wait until the next one, I’m just so happy and blessed God has put me in this place.”
McCutcheon said she learned a lot from Jankoska as far as her skill set and demeanor and wants those attributes to become a part of her style of play. Jankoska, a team captain, said McCutcheon is already under her wing.
“I’ve told the other people if there’s five-on-five, and I had to pick first, or I’m first captain, I’m picking (McCutcheon)," Jankoska said. "Not because she’ll give me the ball, because she’s just the type of player I like to play with."
Jankoska, a preseason All-American, was nothing short of a leader on the court when MSU needed it most. Even after a shoulder injury sustained in a scrimmage against the University of Toledo, Jankoska said she still wanted to be there for the team. Jankoska finished the game with 23 points, two defensive rebounds, seven assists, one block, one steal and finished 5-of-8 from the three.
The will play their first game on Friday against Davidson at the Breslin Center. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.