Friday, October 22, 2021

Preview: Michigan State continues road trip against No. 16 Indiana

January 31, 2021
<p>Then-freshman guard Julia Ayrault (40) shoots the ball during the game against Morehead State on Dec. 15, 2019, at Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Eagles, 93-48.</p>

Then-freshman guard Julia Ayrault (40) shoots the ball during the game against Morehead State on Dec. 15, 2019, at Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Eagles, 93-48.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Michigan State continues their road trip against No. 16 Indiana on Sunday after being dismantled by No. 7 Maryland on Thursday.

Since their two-week pause, the Spartans are 1-1 with a 32-point win, the largest Big Ten win under Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant and a blowout loss to Maryland. Michigan State forward Tory Ozment was absent for both games after testing positive for COVID-19, and her status for the matchup is still to be determined.

The No. 16 Hoosiers are fresh off a loss on Saturday against No. 14 Ohio State, who came back to defeat the Hoosiers with a big 25-point fourth quarter to remain near the top of the standings with No. 7 Maryland.

In their defeat, Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes combined for 43 of the Hoosiers' 70 points, but the team only was able to muster six points off the bench as they fell to the Buckeyes.

Michigan State’s opportunities for AP Top 25 wins are dwindling as they look to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019, when Notre Dame defeated the Spartans in the second round.

With both teams looking to bounce back from their Thursday losses, here are three keys for each squad for Sunday’s matchup.

Michigan State’s keys

1. Establish the post

In their win over Wisconsin, the Spartans got 34 points and 11 rebounds from Taiyier Parks and Alisia Smith for a 32-point victory. Against Maryland, Parks and Smith combined for five points and six rebounds for a 40-point loss.

See a pattern?

This isn’t all on the frontcourt, as the guards have to do a much better job of getting the ball down to Parks or Smith in a good position to be able to make the basket.

“We've been really wanting consistent production from our post-play, and not that they have been inconsistent but I don't know if we've done a good enough job getting them the ball,” Merchant said. “Some of that's on me and a lot of that's on me as a coach, and certainly our guards have to do a better job getting on the ball, but I really loved how they played against Wisconsin. I think both of them really brought a lot of confidence. I thought our guards did a much better job of getting them the ball when they needed it to keep it simple, so they didn't have to make a multitude of moves or the defense hadn't already recovered. I was really proud of their hard work inside but also that teamwork.”

Against the Badgers, Parks and Smith each were able to establish position underneath, and the guards did a great job getting the ball down to them for easy baskets before the defense could react. There will need to be that level of play against an interior defense like Indiana’s.

2. Scoring from the wing

At times it has been Alyza Winston and in others, it has been Julia Ayrault. Moira Joiner after injuries held her back to begin the season has begun to get back to her normal self as she scored 10 against Wisconsin last week.

Frankly, it needs to be somebody on a consistent basis.

Nia Clouden and Mardrekia Cook were the only two Spartans to score double-digit points against the Terrapins on Thursday as the highly talented group of wings, minus Ozment, failed to get anything going.

Merchant has been saying it for a long time, Clouden needs that second consistent scorer, especially if they want to compete in the NCAA Tournament.

3. Taking care of the ball

In perhaps one of the most uncharacteristic performances all season, the Spartans turned the ball over 24 times and only had 10 assists on the night after being one of the best assist-to-turnover ratio teams in the nation, something the team has prided themselves on.

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Indiana is one of the best defensive teams in the country this year and can shut teams down in a hurry. The last thing the Spartans can do is give away possessions on silly passes on offense.

Indiana’s keys

1. Limit turnovers

Seventeen turnovers compared to the Buckeyes’ eight is what ended up being the difference between winning and losing despite a poor shooting night for the Hoosiers.

As a team that prides itself in running good offensive sets and doesn’t have the firepower of a Clouden or Winston to make something out of a broken play, turnovers against a team like Michigan State that loves to run can be deadly.

Whoever can win the turnover battle in this one or capitalize the most on those opportunities will likely be the winner of the game.

2. Break cold streak from beyond the arc

In the last three games for Indiana, the Hoosiers have shot a dismal 5-32 (15.6%) from the three-point line.

Yikes.

The Hoosiers haven’t been a great shooting team all year long with only three players who have consistently shot the ball over 30% on the year. The issue is, they still take the shots as they went 1-14 from beyond the arc against Ohio State.

Indiana will have to be able to keep with the Spartans, so they’ll need to capitalize on the open shots they do have to not be one dimensional on the offensive side of the ball.

3. Draw fouls on the way to the rim

Berger, at the point guard spot, has been fantastic at running north and south and drawing fouls. Against a team like Michigan State who has dealt with issues on foul trouble, she could end up being the X-factor against Michigan State.

Between Berger and Holmes and their pick and roll game, the Hoosiers can cause issues for the thin frontcourt MSU has as well as Clouden and Winston, who have each struggled with staying in the game.

Prediction

Both teams will be fighting for the opportunity for a big win to solidify their tournament hopes, but Michigan State has a bit more to play for right now with their position, and matchup well with the Hoosiers. They’ll likely be able to surpass the road woes and come out with a tough win.

Michigan State 79, Indiana 74

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