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Michigan State's role players step up as foul trouble builds up for stars

December 20, 2020

With Nia Clouden and Alyza Winston each getting up to four fouls in their win against Northern Illinois, Michigan State women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant had to look down to her bench for scoring.

Merchant was able to find it, as the Spartans went on to win 82-70 over Northern Illinois after getting 56 points outside of Winston and Clouden.

With their outside shots not falling, the Spartans turned to the inside where freshman Kendall Bostic was able to get going with nine quick points in the second quarter, and finish with 11 on the day.

“We tried to do a little bit more inside at that point,” Merchant said. “We went a little bit bigger with Kendall (Bostic) and Taiyier (Parks) together and tried to get the ball inside a little bit, because we weren't shooting the ball well. The people that weren't Nia (Clouden) and Alyza (Winston), but certainly not Nia, aren't shooting the ball well, so we were trying to attack a little bit more that way.”

Tory Ozment, who has been the glue for Merchant and the Spartans all year long, was the second highest scorer for the Spartans behind Clouden, finishing with 12 points and seven assists. Merchant has been pleased with her do-it-all-like effort.

“She boxes out, she takes care of the ball, she has a high IQ for the game, she's always in the right spot and she's willing to put her body on the line and take charges too,” Merchant said. “She's one of those kids that I think on all really good teams, great teams have somebody like that, that it's whatever it takes.”

Ozment, as a junior, understands it can’t just be one person all the time. As the Huskies needed a miracle to get a win, Ozment crushed their spirits with a soul-crushing three to put the game on ice with just over a minute left.

“Offensively we have scorers, Nia is definitely a score for us,” Ozment said. “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.”

Julia Ayrault seemed to mirror what Ozment did in a way early by being a playmaker on defense and hustling in transition and on the offensive glass to get easy baskets. With all the injuries the Spartans had a year ago, Merchant believes those minutes they had really helped them for now.

“The Julia's (Ayrault) and Tori's (Ozment) that were role players early 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.”

Clouden, despite her four fouls and three in the first half, would go onto score 18 points and seven assists. In those moments when she’s off the court or not having her best night, she is completely comfortable letting her teammates take over.

“I'm really comfortable doing that,” Clouden said. “I have confidence in all my teammates, especially Tory hit some big shots, Alyza hit some big shots at the end and I just feel like no matter if I'm scoring or not, I feel comfortable passing to my teammates.”

Despite the praise and the win, coach Merchant was entirely pleased with her team's performance as the Huskies were able to hang around to the end. In her postgame press conference. Merchant even said that she believes if that were a Big Ten team, that would have been their first loss of the season.

The team must have felt that too as they trotted out back onto the court for some extra shots after the game.

“That's great to hear because I think we definitely need that,” Merchant said. “There's just no reason for us to shoot the ball the way we did today. I know we're going to nights here or there, but I think we just have to get more consistent. People have to get a little bit more consistent there, because we don't have a bunch of post players with the power game and we play four guards for a reason. When you space the floor like that and drive kick outs or skips in the zone, we’ve got to be able to knock those shots down.”

Michigan State will need to get this type of production from their role players on a consistent basis as the Big Ten season approaches in just over a week.


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