After a slow start, Michigan State women’s basketball (12-12, 5-8) rallied back from a 12-point deficit in the second half to secure a 57-53 victory against Rutgers (17-7, 7-6).
It took until 4:55 left in the third quarter and a Rutgers 12-point lead for the Spartans to wake up.
The lid was off the basket and Breslin Center was electric.
The Spartans rolled back in the final minutes of the third. A McCutcheon three with 1:07 left in the third sent the Spartans into the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run and momentum.
After gaining a one-point lead early in the fourth, the Spartans let the lead slip. Rutgers pulled back ahead by six. But the momentum still was surging through for MSU. With 3:18 left, McCutcheon hit a three that would bring the Spartans back within a possession and reignite their run.
Sophomore forward Kayla Belles brought the score within one with a pair of free throws and, as she has done all season, freshman guard Moira Joiner came in with the clutch. With 1:54 left Joiner drilled a corner three, giving the Spartans a two-point lead.
Sophomore guard Nia Clouden came up with a steal with 1:07 left on the clock from Rutgers’ center Jordan Wallace — Wallace had been a killer in the paint all night.
Clouden forced herself to the line and put the Spartans up another two points. A minute of defensive stops later, the Spartans snapped their five-game losing streak.
The Spartans walked off the court unable to hide their smiles, even Head Coach Suzy Merchant knew it felt good.
"It just felt good, it just felt like it'd been awhile," Merchant said.
"I always told the kids just stay in the fight, you can't give up, you got to find a way."
However, Rutgers out-hustled the green and white and bullied them on the boards in the first half.
Wallace could have planted a flag in the Spartans’ paint after her performance down low during their run, finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Without senior forward Victoria Gaines and redshirt-junior forward Mardrekia Cook, Wallace’s down low game picked at the Spartans’ weaknesses.
But once the buckets started coming in the third, MSU didn’t stop. The Spartans chased down a 12-point deficit, on the back of McCutcheon’s clutch three point performance. She scored 16 points, every field goal came from three.
McCutcheon knew they weren't going to drop another game.
"I felt like in a couple of the other games we had this same situation, but we kind of went to the other side of the fence," McCutcheon said.
"We were down 11 or 12 at one point and I think that everybody was just like 'No. Not again', I think that everybody kind've came together instead of everybody putting their heads down... We came together, played harder and pushed through all the adversity."
Though the 36% shooting from the field wasn’t perfect, the Spartans’ scoring was spread pretty evenly. Clouden and Belles scored 10, Joiner close behind with nine of her own.
With scoring came defense. The Spartans won the second quarter 11-10, the first time they won a quarter since Jan. 30 against Purdue. After allowing 21 points in the first, a 10 point Rutgers second quarter led into another half of Spartan defense.
Through the final two quarters the Spartans allowed just 22 points, winning each of the respective quarters. After a switch to a zone defense, something Merchant doesn't love, they shut it down.
"We went to the zone, we felt good about it, I thought our kids did a really good job of recognizing where their shooters were," Merchant said.
"That helped us, it ignited us... we needed it."
The team's most impressive stat however was their performance from the free-throw line. Going 12-for-13 from the line, they posted a season-best 92%.
McCutcheon sealed the game by drilling her last four free throws in the final minute of the game.
The Spartans’ comeback win snapped a five-game losing streak. They will look to carry their momentum into another home game on Feb. 17 against Minnesota.
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