Nia Clouden and the No. 16 Spartans marched into South Bend looking for revenge, and they got it by defeating the No. 15 Notre Dame 72-69. For the first time in fifteen years, the green and white defeated the Fighting Irish, and they did so in wire to wire fashion.
This may not be the Irish team that eliminated them in the tournament last year, or the one that won a championship a year ago, but, this win was significant nonetheless. In the last 114 home games for the Irish, they had won 110 of those. Notre Dame Head Coach Muffet McGraw’s teams do not lose at home.
But, Nia Clouden was not phased.
Clouden had a career-high 28 points in this game, including four huge threes to start the scoring for the Spartans. She was on fire Thursday night.
In this game, Michigan State led from beginning to end, but Notre Dame was able to keep the game within reach throughout the night. Big games from Freshman Sam Brunelle, who had 19 points in this game, kept the Irish within no more than eleven after a 17-4 start from MSU. The Spartans just could not pull away.
In the fourth quarter, the Irish kept inching closer and closer. With 5:30 to go, Brunelle sunk one of two free throws to bring the game within one. The young Irish team showed they were not going down without a fight.
With 10 seconds remaining, and the game seemingly in hand, the Spartans left Brunelle wide open for a three to bring the game back within one. A huge mistake. The Irish fouled senior guard Taryn McCutcheon, who struggled Thursday night only shooting 3-12 from the field, and 1-7 from beyond the arc.
As you would hope your senior would, McCutcheon sunk both of her free throws to put the Spartans back up by three. Brunelle had one last heave, but it was no good, the Spartans were victorious.
The offensive rebounding was huge for Michigan State Thursday night as they had 13 second chance points. MSU had 20 offensive rebounds, including five from redshirt senior Coco Gaines. The Spartan’s post play might not have been the strongest on offense, but they did just enough to win.
This game has huge implications for such an early game. MSU is looking to compete for Big Ten titles and National titles alike, and to do that, you have to beat the nation’s best.
However, they didn’t have their best night tonight. McCutcheon struggled throughout, but that didn’t shake her when she needed to hit those clutch free throws. Clouden saw opportunities and took them. She exploded in this one, and the offense would have been lost without her.
The freshman, apart from Moira Joiner, struggled tonight in limited minutes. Freshman Taiyier Parks had four fouls in just three minutes of play, and freshman guard Alyza Winston was only on the floor for four minutes.
This team has work to do. At times, the offense struggles, and they often begin to take low percentage looks when they shots don’t fall. Clouden won’t be there every time hitting shots like she did tonight.
The post needs someone to emerge on offense. Gaines has been solid defensively, but nobody can score in the low post it seems. Parks was able to against Eastern Michigan, but then was nonexistent tonight against the Irish. Sophomore Kayla Belles has had her moments, but has also struggled to get into a position to get the ball on offense.
If the Spartans want to reach their goals, they have to improve in these areas.
However, this game did show that this team has the ability to do something special this year. The green and white did not have their best night, but they were able to win. McCutcheon struggled shooting the ball, but made her free throws when it counted. Michigan State was also without their starting guard Shay Colley tonight as she is with the Canadian basketball team at this time. That is what is important for Suzy Merchant and her team going forward. This team is aiming to make a run, and by winning and advancing even when your team isn’t at its best is what it is all about in college basketball.
The Spartans will look to extend their three game winning streak this Tuesday against Oakland University, at the Breslin Center at 7 p.m.