The No. 23 Spartans came up short against No. 12 Maryland on Thursday night despite a valiant fourth quarter comeback. The leader of that effort, as she has all season long, was junior guard Nia Clouden, who scored a career high 32 points and reached 1,000 points overall in a career milestone against the team from her home state.
Heading into the top-25 showdown, Clouden knew she was going to reach that milestone, not because she was overly-confident, but because her mother told her so.
“I knew I was going to score 1,000 points because my mom keeps me up to date on literally everything,” Clouden said. “She wanted me to get that in this game, so I tried to do that for her.”
Her parents couldn’t make the trip to East Lansing on Thursday, but her mom still made sure her daughter hit the mark.
“She texts me every day,” Clouden said. “Getting out of practice, I’ll have six texts from mom. I read them all, but I don’t even know which texts to reply to because she sends me so much stuff. She really stays on top of basketball.”
While the milestones and career highs are great for Clouden, she is the ultimate competitor. When the announcement came that Clouden had reached 1,000 points, you could look down and see Clouden shaking her head as her teammates congratulated her. All she wanted to do was focus on the game and making that fourth quarter comeback on Maryland.
“That’s what big time players do,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “She’s never shied away from a moment. I think she was excited to play Maryland. The 1,000 point was great for her, but I know she would have rather won the game, just knowing Nia.”
Merchant was right in her assessment on where her star point guard was.
“The 1,000 points for my career, that’s a really big milestone,” Clouden said. “I just really wish we could have got the win, so that’s all.”
Clouden and her team got down big in the second quarter as foul trouble and Maryland’s offense became too much for the Spartans, and the climb back seemed to be too steep. However, it was Clouden who kept battling and inspiring her teammates to fight.
“We know Nia is our go-to, and we know she’s consistent, super clutch, she’s freaking amazing,” Michigan State sophomore guard Julia Ayrault said. “She’s so good, and I think she definitely started that spark because we just had an excitement, and we know she has our back and we were ready to go. That definitely gave us a boost of energy and a boost of excitement.”
Ayrault, despite getting two quick fouls in the first half, seemed to feed off Clouden’s performance on the night as she scored 17 along with a pair of blocks in their comeback effort.
Clouden has been a starter since she came here as a freshman, but the part where Merchant thinks she has made the most gains is as a leader of the locker room. With her mentality on display today, it became clear that she is the engine that makes Michigan State run.
“She was spectacular,” Merchant said. “I had a feeling she was going to hit that 1,000 point mark since I think she was only 14 points away, but do it the way she did with 32 points, five assists, and she only had one turnover and a couple steals. She was very consistent for us.”
After the game, it would be easy for the team to get down about such a heartbreaking loss, especially one that prevented them from continuing one of their best starts in school history. As they entered the locker room though, they only focused on the next time they would face off against a conference opponent. They have the belief they can win.
“It was a really close game," Clouden said. "We think we can compete with anybody in the league, especially Maryland. We’re really looking forward to that game to be able to prove that we can beat anybody in the league and just being able to play hard, and we know that things didn’t go our way tonight, but we’re just excited to have another chance at it.”
The incredibly tough Big Ten conference gauntlet doesn’t end for the Spartans as Nebraska, rival Michigan and Indiana are all awaiting the green and white in the next few days. Each game represents a potential huge win for MSU.
One thing is certain. The next time Michigan State suits up, Clouden will be the consistent force that she has become in the 2020-2021 season.
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