With the regular season drawing nearer, Michigan State women’s basketball completed an 88-59 rout of the Hillsdale Chargers in its final exhibition Thursday night at the Breslin Center. The Spartans dominated the contest, never trailing through 40 minutes.
MSU started junior guard Shay Colley, junior guard Taryn McCutcheon, junior forward Victoria Gaines, senior center Jenna Allen freshman guard Nia Clouden.
In her first start, Clouden nearly posted a triple-double, recording 13 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
“I was a little impressed by her ability as a freshman to just run the team. She's a pretty quiet kid, but she has a commanding presence when she's out there,” coach Suzy Merchant said of Clouden. “I wasn't sure how that was gonna go; we've got two veteran guards on each side, with Taryn and Shay … She almost had a triple double in her first game in uniform. She's a talented kid and she works hard. It's obviously shown and she's done a really good job for us.”
Allen finished with a double-double, scoring 23 points and nabbing 10 boards. Colley followed suit with 15 points and 10 rebounds of her own. The Allen-Colley tandem helped lead the Spartans to a 52-42 rebound advantage over Hillsdale.
“That was a big emphasis coming into this game," Allen said. “Coach really wanted us to get the ball inside, especially with bigger guards that can post up. I feel like one of our key things is we’ve got big people that can post up. That’s to our advantage.”
MSU dominated the paint, outscoring the Chargers 58-18. The Spartans’ low-post dominance became evident on the first play of the game, as Allen converted off a pass deep in the paint for the first two points of the contest.
MSU’s defensive dominance was also on display, as Hillsdale shot a mere 29.4 percent from the field to the Spartans’ 49.3.
“I was a little bit worried about our defense early on but I think the second half we did a better job at defending the arc,” Merchant commented. “They hit seven threes in the first half and only three in the second. We adjusted a couple of things defensively, but for the most part we really just did a better job of settling in. That's one side of the ball that we have changed some things.”
The Breslin crowd’s trademark shot-clock trickery compounded the Spartans’ defensive presence, forcing Hillsdale to force up a shot before the shot clock expired. A few possessions later, MSU forced a true shot clock violation on the Chargers.
Colley showcased her quickness throughout the game, finishing coast-to-coast layups as well as many contested fast break opportunities. With 2:30 left in the first quarter, as Hillsdale had a chance to bring the score within one or tie the game, Clouden took a pass from a Jenna Allen defensive rebound turned fast break and scored a crucial two points for the Spartans, giving them a 19-14 lead – one they would hold for the rest of the game. The first quarter ended with a 25-14 Spartan advantage.
Hillsdale would pull within seven a minute into the second quarter from a Brittany Gray three-pointer, but the Spartans gradually pulled away. Allen continued to be a major force inside, scoring eight points in the quarter. Taryn McCutcheon added five, including a three with 40 seconds left in the quarter to cement a comfortable 46-31 lead going into halftime.
In the third quarter, MSU started running away with the contest. Nothing represented the Spartans’ success on the day better than an Allen three that scraped every inch of the rim and seemingly spun out before dropping to give MSU an 18-point lead.
The Spartans’ overall defensive effort could be summarized on a single possession later in the quarter. As Hillsdale’s Sydney Anderson stole the ball from freshman guard Tory Ozment, all five Spartans suffocated Hillsdale’s fast break, forcing a contested layup attempt and miss by Anderson. Ozment grabbed the rebound and pushed the ball to Clouden in transition, who converted the layup to go with a foul en route to a three-point play. The Spartan-dominated third quarter would end 68-47.
In the fourth, Ozment showcased her skills in limited minutes, averaging a point per minute, going 4-of-6 from the field. MSU would coast to a 88-59 victory.
The Spartans start the regular season against Bowling Green next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Breslin Center.