When sophomore Tory Ozment took a scary fall under the rim with 4:04 left against Purdue, Michigan State women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant said she knew it was going to be severe.
“Tory is probably one of the best charge-taking kids I’ve had in my career,” she said. “She knows how to do it, she knows how to fall. When that happened and she fell down and hit her head that hard, I knew it was probably going to be pretty significant because she takes them all the time and pops right back up.”
Ozment was helped off the court and ruled out the rest of the game.
When redshirt junior Mardrekia Cook fell during Wednesday’s practice, Merchant said she knew then too.
“She didn’t even do anything," she said. “She was just standing there and she stepped backwards to go forward and went down and she kind of was giggling at first ... then all of a sudden, she just started screaming. ... I was just like, her season is over.”
According to Merchant, Cook suffered a torn ACL and will not return for the season.
The feeling has grown all too familiar this season for Michigan State women’s basketball. After dropping their third straight game against Purdue, the Spartans are 11-10 overall and 4-6 in conference play with only eight games to go as the list of injuries grows larger.
Redshirt senior Shay Colley hasn’t played since Dec. 28th, 2019 and redshirt junior Victoria Gaines is out for the season with a knee injury as the Spartans struggle to find success with a predominantly young lineup. Only sophomore Nia Clouden and senior Taryn McCutcheon have started every game this season.
Amid the injuries, Clouden led the team in scoring with 17 points against Purdue. Clouden said the only thing the team can do when faced with such adversity is be prepared.
“Everybody always has to be ready,” she said. “People have gone down and other people have had to show up whether they were ready or not. ... I think we all just have to hold ourselves accountable and just be ready when it’s time.”
McCutcheon, battling a broken finger on her shooting hand herself, said that there’s been problems with injuries in the past but that this team needs to be better at pushing through.
“The time that I’ve been here, we’ve had a lot of adversity, especially our class,” she said. “(Cook) has been struggling ever since she got here, (Gaines), she’s injured her knees. Just a lot of that stuff has been happening for a long time and I think that we just don’t do a very good job of fighting through it sometimes.”
McCutcheon added that it’s time for the Spartans to finish strong for those who can’t be out on the court with them.
“Everybody’s supposed to go out good, right?” she said. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. I think that we need to take advantage of the time we have right now and play for people like (Cook) and (Gaines) who can’t play.”
McCutcheon isn’t the only Spartan playing hurt. Sophomore Kayla Belles started against Purdue and led the team in rebounding after what Merchant thought was a season ending injury in Tuesday's practice.
“Kayla had what we thought was a torn meniscus,” she said. “Thankfully it wasn’t, but she has some sort of irritation and a bursa sac problem, which is very painful. ... She was a little hobbly out there today, trying to compete a little bit, but I thought she did as good of a job as she could considering how her knee was tweaked on Tuesday."
“I don’t think she was herself 100% but she did what she could," she said. "If we didn’t have her it would’ve been an absolute disaster.”
The Spartans hit the road to face off against No. 17 Maryland and No. 23 Northwestern next week. Merchant said the Spartans won’t get down on themselves and will bring the fight during one of their toughest two-game stretches of the season.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourself in this business and now you’re going into the two No.1 teams on the road, so it’s not an ideal week for us,” she said. “We’re not going down there, I know that. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and go to work.”
As Merchant explained the facts of her team, she only asked for one thing.
“We’re young, we’re inexperienced, we’re injured, we’re trying to find our way,” she said.“I honestly sure would like to catch a break, you know.”