“I had six kids sitting in street clothes tonight, so our depth was a little bit of an issue, but it gave opportunity to some other people who don’t normally get it,” head coach Suzy Merchant said postgame. “Some positive things certainly were that we had four in double figures and our assist-to-turnover ratio was a 2.27, which is obviously something we’ve really been working on after our last two scrimmages. So 25 assists on 29 field goals is sharing the ball well.”
FINAL: MSU 77, SFU 44, Spartan women's basketball takes lead in 1st game of season
This was the first game for the Spartan women after losing All-Big Ten performers Taryn McCutcheon and Shay Colley to graduation in the spring. McCutcheon, despite not being selected in the Women’s National Basketball Association, or WNBA, draft, signed with the KR women’s team in Reykjavik, Iceland on a one-year contract deal.
Colley was not selected in the draft either.
Eyes were on junior guard Nia Clouden who, after being named Preseason All-Big Ten by coaches and media, carried the Spartans on her back, coming out with a total of 15 points, 10 assists and two rebounds. She shot 1-for-3 from the arc, 6-for-11 from the field.
“It’s a really good line to start out with 15 points and 10 assists," Merchant said of Clouden. "Starting out as a double-double is kind of what you want your first team, all conference player to do. She’s got ice in her veins. She’s somebody that, when we certainly could have done a lot more things for her tonight, but as we’re playing such early Big Ten games and other games we have to let other people play ... and let the flow of the game give us a feel for what we need to have down the stretch.”
During the 2019-20 season, before the pandemic infiltrated Michigan, Clouden finished first on the team and eighth in the Big Ten in scoring with an average of 14.5 points per game. She had also tied for 14th in the league in assists with an average of 3.3 per game and 11th in steals with an average of 1.7 per game.
“It starts and ends with a great point guard,” Merchant said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t have that position, and when you have someone special like that that can not only score themselves, but also pass the ball, I think that makes a huge difference.”
Merchant called on the upperclassmen, those with a lot of experience, postgame, saying this is the next level and it’s their time to be aggressive.
“A lot of people want that role of being the man and scoring a lot of points,” Merchant said.
Ozment and Parks backed up Clouden beautifully, laying out another 10 and 11 points, respectively. Joiner and Cook combined to add add another eight points for the Spartans.
“We really love Tory’s versatility. She’s another kid that’s really committed to getting stronger this offseason and is in really good shape,” Merchant said. “She’s a big guard, she’s 6-foot-1 and she can be physical down there with defensive box outs, she can run in transition, she’s got a little bit of everything to her game.”
Ozment went down with three minutes left on the clock in the 3rd quarter, clutching her left hip and knee as she was helped limp off the court, but still wearing a smile that stretched from ear-to-ear — no injury could crush the fact that she was finally back doing what she loved with the people she loved.
Merchant said postgame that it was a muscle cramp Ozment had endured. She made a return in the fourth quarter briefly with no issues and is expected to stay in an active status. After three players already having had surgery, Merchant said that she was glad it wasn’t anything severe, adding that they don’t need anymore cuts in their roster.
Another top scorer for MSU was freshman forward Kendall Bostic, who came out with a total of 15 points, one assist and six rebounds, going 1-for-1 from the arc, 6-for-7 from the field.
“Her work ethic is off the charts,” Merchant said of Bostic. “She’s in great shape. ... Also (she) is in the gym all the time, she comes in here on her own, she works out quite a bit with (associate head) coach Dean (Lockwood). Her commitment has allowed her to play multiple positions for us as a freshman, which is pretty unusual.”
St. Francis redshirt junior guard Lili Benzel led the way for the Red Flash, coming out with a total of 10 points and going 2-for-5 from the arc, 4-for-10 from the field.
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Red Flash junior center Jada Dapaa kept her name visible as she too made a come-up in the fourth quarter, adding an extra six points to SFU’s total score.
Merchant said the Spartans were trying to keep it simple so they didn’t show off a lot of their game and she finds that to be a good starting point. Of course, there are areas they need to beef up, such as rebounding and there’s been a bit of a shift in offense that they’re not quite used to yet because of COVID-19.
The Spartans will host the Detroit Mercy Titans (0-1) in their second game of the season Wednesday, Dec. 2. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.