Spartans will their way to victory over Nebraska in overtime thriller, 78-70
Overcoming 10-point deficit, Spartans find a way against Nebraska
Five lead changes, seven times tied up, one overtime and a Spartan victory.
The Spartans (8-5) defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-2) 78-70, in an overtime thriller on New Year’s Eve, breaking their three-game skid.
"I thought our kids fought and played hard, we were down significant seniors and leadership ... We had a lot of inexperienced young kids out there, but at the same I thought they did a really good job playing the role they needed to, they were pretty engaged in our defensive game plan, and offensively we shared the ball well," Head Coach Suzy Merchant said.
In the absence of redshirt seniors guard Shay Colley and forward Victoria Gaines, the Spartans ran without two of their starters.
Points would be hard to come by for the Spartans in the first half, as they couldn’t find a way to make any shots fall. Senior guard Taryn McCutcheon and sophomore guard Nia Clouden, the team's elite scorers, combined for just two points through the first two periods.
Freshman guard Moira Joiner drilled a three with 1:27 left in the first half, bringing the Spartans within six. The three brought the bench to their feet and ignite a spark of energy to the trailing Spartans and sent them into the half with momentum swinging to their side.
Joiner would carry her own momentum into the second half, scoring a career-high 13 points.
Her team would follow her lead. The Spartans and Huskers would begin trading blows deep into the fourth period.
McCutcheon and Clouden grounded themselves and began hitting clutch shots.
With 1:01 left on the clock, Clouden hit a three, tying the game for a sixth time.
A pair of free throws put Nebraska back on top 59-57, but a Nebraska foul put sophomore forward Tory Ozment at the line with 2.2 seconds remaining.
Ozment sunk both free throws, punching the Spartans' ticket to overtime.
"I just didn't want to lose," Ozment said. "I just did not want to lose this game and I knew that I had put in a lot of work before that, I've shot thousands of free throws. Just knowing that I've prepared for that moment, I knew that I could hit them both.
"(It felt) awesome. It sent us to overtime, but we weren't done, we didn't win the game, we still had five more minutes to play."
Overtime was all green.
A free throw by sophomore forward Kayla Belles put the Spartans up in overtime, and they wouldn’t look back.
Joiner, McCutcheon and Belles would all add to the Spartans’ lead in the final minutes, shutting down the Huskers and willing their way back from a 10-point deficit to win.
Five Spartans reached double digits in the game — McCutcheon, Joiner, Ozment, Belles and Clouden, who led the Spartans with 16 points and seven assists.
McCutcheon added three steals in crunch time that helped the Spartans secure a win.
The Spartans will continue Big Ten play when they travel to Ann Arbor Jan. 5 to face the rival Michigan Wolverines.