Michigan State women’s basketball (5-1) made a statement in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge with its dominating 91-66 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers (2-5) at the Breslin Center Wednesday night. The Spartans led by as many as 30 points and shot 56.9 percent from the field, going 53.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Senior center Jenna Allen had a game-high 21 points and added seven rebounds. Freshman guard Nia Clouden earned a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists. Freshman guard Tory Ozment had 19 points off the bench for the Spartans. Brianna Tinsley led Virginia with 19 points.
"Those three freshmen (Clouden, Ozment, Kayla Belles) really played well. I thought our veterans did a good job as well. It was a good team victory," MSU coach Suzy Merchant said postgame. "When you have 27 assists on 33 field goals, it’s a pretty positive thing and we only turned it over 11 times."
MSU’s initial 6-0 run would foreshadow the rest of the opening quarter, as they held Virginia to just 14.3 percent shooting while forcing 11 turnovers. The Spartans finished the quarter on a 13-0 run in the midst of a 19-2 run over a seven minute span.
"I felt good about it (the first quarter) because we knew Virginia was in a different place," Merchant said. "They just lost a couple at home to some mid-major teams. We were fully anticipating them coming in here with a lot of fire, and heart, and toughness, and really giving it to us. It was important for us as a group to understand that."
Clouden continued to justify her starting role as she finished the first with six points and three steals. The freshman flashed her ability to run the floor, as her two fast-break finishes off turnovers in the first two minutes set the tone for the Spartans. She later found junior guard Taryn McCutcheon for a three to create a 11-2 lead.
"Nia Clouden really got us off to a great start with a couple of her rip and takes and got that energy going," Merchant said. "I thought when Kayla (Belles) came in she did a great job of running the floor; keeping it simple; catching and finishing; getting rebounds. Torey Ozment is just getting better and better."
The Spartans had five turnovers themselves, but the sloppy play of the first quarter was overshadowed by their 25-4 lead held as it came to a close.
As MSU gained its largest lead at 31-6 early in the second, the Cavaliers began to generate more consistent scoring, improving to 53.3 percent from the field.
Although Virginia began to reduce turnovers and halt MSU in transition early in the second, the Spartans settled into their half-court offense, answering nearly every Virginia basket.
"I thought Virginia did a good job of spreading us out a little bit and getting a little momentum, and they went zone, so we had to execute. You can’t just one pass-shoot it," Merchant said. "I think it bothered them because we were able to execute in those situations. They had to get out of it, obviously, because we were knocking down shots in different places; we were getting the ball in high-low situations. That’s when I thought the same slowed down a little bit when they went zone and we had to work the ball a little bit more."
Khyasia Caldwell’s three-pointer cut the MSU lead to 19, but McCutcheon responded with a three of her own. Jenna Allen established her presence in the paint, finishing the half with 13 points and six rebounds.
Virginia’s uptick in scoring was negated by trading baskets with the Spartans throughout the second quarter, as a 46-26 MSU lead sent the game into halftime.
The initial minutes of the third quarter represented more of the same for the Spartans, as the back-and-forth play helped them retain their comfortable lead.
As Virginia started to chip away at the deficit, possibly the biggest turning point of the game came around the seven minute mark.
A three by Jocelyn Willoughby cut the lead to 16, but MSU ended a two-minute scoring drought as McCutcheon found Allen for an easy two on the fast break. The momentum continued to swing the Spartans’ way as junior forward Nia Hollie fought for an offensive board and assisted a three by Ozment.
Ozment would go 2-2 from three in the third, adding another in the final minute of the quarter, stretching the lead back to 20. After a Caldwell layup for UVA, the Spartans would head into the fourth with a 67-49 lead.
Ozment would give the Spartans their largest lead at that point as her put-back layup stretched the score to 80-53, putting MSU in cruise control the rest of the way en route to its 25-point victory.
"I never know my Jersey is going to get called," Ozment said. "Having Shay out, having Claire sit out, it was an opportunity to prove myself and show it I can do. So I just had to make the most of it and not take it for granted."
The Spartans will close their two-game home stand against Texas Southern Sunday at 2 p.m.