Despite foul trouble from it’s biggest contributors, Michigan State women's basketball was victorious over Northern Illinois, winning 82-70 Sunday afternoon.
Northern Illinois got things going early behind their shooting from beyond the arc that is ranked highest in the MAC conference, extending their lead to 8-2 in the first few minutes.
It was all Michigan State from there.
Forcing eight turnovers in the first quarter, the Spartans went on a 21-4 run on the back of it’s starting point guard Nia Clouden, who scored eight in the first quarter. Clouden was a pest for the Huskies, getting two steals in the first quarter.
Julia Ayrault was all over the court in the first quarter as well, jumping in passing lanes and blocking shots. Ayrault was one of the main facilitators in the first quarter, scoring easy layups in transition, getting seven quick points in the first.
The Spartans continued to gap the Huskies going into the second half. Michigan State freshman Kendall Bostic carried the Spartans in the second quarter, scoring nine points including a putback layup to put the Spartans up 19 with 3:13 left to go in the first half.
The Huskies would keep it close heading into the half on the back of their season leading scorer Chelby Koker — averaging 21.1 points per game this season — scored 9 consecutive points to cut the lead back to 10.
Tory Ozment pushed the lead to 13 with a buzzer beating three.
The Huskies would hang around in the third quarter as key Spartans entered foul trouble. Clouden remained on the bench for the majority of the third quarter after picking up two quick fouls, forcing Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant to bench Clouden with four fouls. Key contributors Bostic and Alyza Winston each had three fouls at the end of the third.
Despite the lack of offensive punch with Clouden staying on the bench, the Spartans began to warm up offensively as Moira Joiner hit a three and Ayrault got another easy putback layup to push the lead back up to 15.
However, Northern Illinois to keep the game interesting would hit a buzzer beating three of their own to cut the lead to 12 at the end of the third.
The Huskies continued to keep the game close by building off their buzzer beating three with a 7-0 run to cut the lead down to seven, forcing the Spartans to call a timeout and play Clouden with four fouls.
Despite their push, the Spartans kept the lead in this win, something that Merchant is not sure last year's team could have done.
“The Julia's (Ayrault) and Tori's (Ozment) that were role players early in in their careers really built themselves into playing a lot of minutes last year due to our injuries,” Merchant said. "Drekia (Mardrekia Cook) went out, Coco (Victoria Gaines) went out and Shay Colley went out. Those are two fifth year seniors and a fourth year junior that went out last year. Those kids were forced into playing a little bit more, so I think that's what helps attribute. You don't really rattle that easily. I think last year's team would have rattled a little bit more.”
The Spartans missing Winston and Clouden’s play could not be more evident after that as upon entering, the dynamic backcourt pairing scored eight quick points to keep the Spartans ahead in the fourth.
As the Huskies tried to close the game late, Ozment and Clouden came up big as Clouden drove to the basket and dished it out to Ozment for a corner three to put the Spartans up 12. Clouden would go on to hit back-to-back baskets to seal the deal.
Clouden led the Spartans in scoring, putting up 18 points, seven assists and 3 steals. Bostic, Ayrault, Ozment and Winston combined for 40 total points for the Spartans.
“Offensively we have scorers," Ozment said. "Nia is definitely a score for us. We have other people that can come in and score. Taiyier is a beast on the block. Alyza can score. I think that tested us as well, so that kind of helped us kind of rely on someone else because we can't just have one person save us the whole game.”
As a team the Spartans shot 49.3% from the field and forced 18 turnovers on their way to a 12-point win over Northern Illinois. The Spartans also had 25 assists on 34 made baskets along with 19 fastbreak points.
MSU held Koker to only 14 points despite shooting a perfect 5-5 from the line. The Huskies, despite leading the MAC in three point shooting, were only able to hit X six times on 22 attempts.
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Michigan State will end it’s non-conference schedule against Oakland at noon this Tuesday looking to finish undefeated heading into Big Ten play.
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