Sitting on the bench for less than a minute against Oakland University on Dec. 2, Tori Jankoska wasn’t pleased. Up to that point, about 4:36 left in the second quarter, she had chipped in five points, four assists, a steal and five rebounds though her team clung to a one-point lead.
Less than one minute later the Spartans trailed by a point and Jankoska was hurried back into the game. As is her nature, she doesn’t settle, she responds.
Down 22-21 Branndais Agee clutched a defensive board and dished to Jankoska, who found Taryn McCutcheon for a jumper and the lead.
Back down the court, MSU forced a turnover right to Jankoska, who fired it to Jenna Allen in the post. Bucket.
McCutcheon stole the ball on the ensuing inbound play and flipped it to Jankoska, who caught it
That sequence, encapsulating seven points in 1:29, was all generated or ended by Jankoska, bringing MSU out of a lackluster performance into a six-point lead.
She saved the night for MSU numerous times against Oakland, coming up big to tie or take the lead down the stretch. Five times in the third quarter she either dropped shots that tied the game or put MSU in front of the Golden Grizzlies.
MSU escaped the third quarter with the lead and never trailed in the final quarter, mostly thanks to Jankoska, who finished the night with a career-high 37 points, seven assists and 10 rebounds — good for her 15th double-double.
“She was amazing,” head coach Suzy Merchant said after the Oakland game. “A few assists away from a triple-double and a legit one that’s very efficient. She took 16 shots. It wasn’t like she was shooting 25-30 times to get there. She’s really doing everything she can on the offensive end to be competitive and attack, block different ways.”
Backed up by a young team that has hit the road for many of its early contests, it has been Jankoska’s steady hand that has propelled MSU to 5-2 in its past seven games, six of which were road games.
“Tori has done that her whole career, basically,” Merchant said. “Not so much her freshman year, from sophomore year on, she’s just tough. She’s a competitor and she’s got a lot of heart and competes, believes in herself and is really confident. I feel like having her out there maybe a little bit tired is better and she’s experienced and she kind of knows what’s going on out there and scouting reports and things like that.”
Jankoska added another double-double in MSU’s 71-54 victory over Quinnipiac Tuesday night, sustaining a promising start for the senior whose prowess and skill is now front and center following the departure of Aerial Powers.
The improvement in Jankoska’s game has come from an attitude similar to her coach’s.
“I think that’s what makes me play at the level I can, because I’m not the most athletic, I’m not the quickest, I’m not the best shooter,” Jankoska said. “So just to be able to compete and go one-on-one, make sure I’m not losing against the girl in front of me, I think that’s what helps me become a good player.”
With Powers gone, Jankoska is the team’s best player and she’s lived up to it, averaging 22.9 points game while tallying an average of 7.3 boards a game and shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Her production has been expected from seniors before and it’s nothing new for Jankoska to continue that facet. The senior role can be a double-edged sword, and Jankoska has found herself trying to navigate the leadership aspect she’s never really been a part of.
“We had a team meeting last night,” Jankoska said following the Oakland game. “A lot of it was about the way I was leading and the aggressive attitude and stuff like that and tonight I just tried to stay a little more calm, obviously getting to people when they needed it.”
Her competitiveness and never satisfied approach
“We’re so young, I feel like everybody’s trying to figure out their role on the team,” Allen said. “Tori’s done a great job leading this team, she’s a senior captain, she’s scoring, she’s rebounding, she’s assisting, she’s done a great job.”