Friday, February 21, 2020

'It just felt good': Michigan State women's basketball relishes their win over Rutgers

February 14, 2020
<p>Freshman guard Moira Joiner attempts a three point shot during the women&#x27;s basketball game against Rutgers at the Breslin Center on Feb. 13, 2020. The Spartans ended a five-game losing streak and defeated the Scarlet Knights 57-53. </p>

Freshman guard Moira Joiner attempts a three point shot during the women's basketball game against Rutgers at the Breslin Center on Feb. 13, 2020. The Spartans ended a five-game losing streak and defeated the Scarlet Knights 57-53.

Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

In a game that was an uphill climb for Michigan State women’s basketball every step of the way, it was only fitting that the Breslin Center reached its fever pitch with only 1.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

After being fouled by redshirt junior Arella Guirantes, senior guard Taryn McCutcheon took the line to close out the game and said she tried not to think. 

Just feel. 

“I was thinking 'don’t think about it,'” McCutcheon said. "I remember the LSU game. And that was horrible, I missed free throws to tie the game at the end."

She dribbled, bent her knees and lifted the shot up in the air. It sunk.

"It''s been a real struggle for me at the free throw line all year because I just get flashbacks of that game. And so, my dad told me, 'every time that you're pointing and talking when you're at the free-throw line, you step up and knock them down. When you stand at the free throw line and you wait for the ball and you think about the shot, you freak out and you miss it.' I was trying to turn around and talk to my teammates and smile."

She shot again. It went in and she tried to conceal the brightest smile in the Breslin that night.

It was these free throws that closed the lid on the Spartans' 57-53 comeback win over Rutgers to end a five-game losing streak, a win that gives Michigan State women's basketball new life for the remaining five regular season games.

After being down 31-24 at the half, MSU came back hard in the second half, making defensive adjustments and scoring 18 in the fourth to put away a Rutgers team that couldn't match the intensity of the team or the crowd.

"I think the crowd got into it and then we saw that we had a chance," McCutcheon said. "We started getting more emotion into it and we went on that run and by then we were like, OK, we're not losing another game."

MSU coach Suzy Merchant said that she appreciated the crowd showing out amid the team's recent struggles.

"It was a very loud crowd for probably not a highly marketed game, per se, on a Thursday night that was kind of snowy," Merchant said. "I was really pleased with that energy. ... I thought it really inspired our young kids, you know, they need to hear that when they're doing well because they don't always know."

McCutcheon posted a team-high 16 points with a broken finger and freshman Moira Joiner dropped nine points as their shooting from the arc and free throw line led the Spartans down the stretch.

McCutcheon said that it was her teammates' confidence in her to keep shooting that let her ignore the injury and make shots.

"Coach was running me off of the screen and I was like, 'OK, she's comfortable with me with the ball,'" McCutcheon said. "And then my teammates were looking for me off the screens. I'm like, 'OK, my teammates want me to have the ball in my hands.'"

"When people are looking for me off screens and stuff like that gives me the confidence to know that I'm a shooter and that I'm going to knock down the shot. So, I just say like everybody believing in me at the end of the game, it just really helps me as a player to step up and make those free throws."

Merchant said that this win had a different impact than other victories.

"It just felt good," Merchant said. "We had a tough stretch where we played those five games and we were in that losing streak and four of those five teams were the top of the league with three of them on the road. ... I always tell the kids, just stay in the fight, you know, can't give up, you gotta find a way."

As the Spartans found a way, McCutcheon said that it was nice to see the team remember how to win.

"I've known for a little bit, we've forgotten what it felt like to win," McCutcheon said. "The losing streak just kind of got us all down in a hole and so it was just a really, really nice feeling to be able to see what this team can actually do."

With the Big 10 Tournament looming on the horizon, the Spartans will need wins like this if they intend to make any noise in Indianapolis. McCutcheon said that it's good to be back to what she remembers, winning.

"It feels good to win, doesn't it?" she said. " ... I don't remember the last time that I've lost that many games in a row. And I think that everybody kind of felt like that."

From smiles at the free throw line.

"I mean, I haven't stopped smiling."

To smiles after the victory.

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