Moments after their six point loss to then No. 12 Maryland, Michigan State women’s basketball headed to the locker room.
After a fourth-quarter surge on the back of a record-breaking day from Maryland native Nia Clouden, a loss that heartbreaking can deliver a big blow to a team. However, their heads remained high and the message was consistent throughout the team.
"We want Maryland again," the group said.
That wish came sooner than expected as both teams opted to play this Thursday, opposed to their originally scheduled date on Feb. 10.
“I just think we're all really excited to get back to playing again,” Clouden said. “Last week, we played for the first time in two weeks and then we just found out we're playing Maryland tomorrow, so we're all really excited and we're going to be ready.”
Foul trouble put the Spartans in a tough position against the Terrapins, as they were able to attempt 38 shots from the charity stripe and sank 33 of them. With a team as explosive on offense as the Terrapins – they lead the NCAA in points per game – giving them free chances at points is not what Michigan State women’s basketball Head Coach Suzy Merchant would like to do.
“We gave 33 points (up) at the free-throw line, I know some of that at the end was fouling, but we have to continue to work on that,” Merchant said. “We've got to get better, we’ve got to get a little more disciplined in that regard because they're very good at getting themselves to the line. We just have to be in a better position to make sure we don't put ourselves in those positions where we're fouling.”
A lot of the fouls came from the interior as Maryland’s stars Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller combined for 21 attempts from the free-throw line and got an already thin front-court for the Spartans in foul trouble.
Taiyier Parks and Alisia Smith answered the call after their two-week pause though, as they combined for 34 points and 11 rebounds in their win against Wisconsin Sunday.
“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.”
Merchant will be down one of her most consistent players in forward Tory Ozment after she tested positive for COVID-19.
Her status for the Indiana game on Sunday is still to be decided. With Ozment’s absence, that will make the post-play from Smith and Parks that much more important.
One of the players who will fill those minutes is sophomore guard Moira Joiner, who found her role again after an injury-riddled start to the season and scored 10 points and provided tough defense in their thumping of the Wisconsin Badgers.
"She's just all grit and toughness,” Merchant said. “I think she's just continued to work on being more consistent from the three-point line, that’s something that I know was a goal of hers.”
No. 7 Maryland has won three of four since defeating the Spartans on Jan. 7, dropping their second loss of the season against No.17 Ohio State Monday. This will be their first home game since dismantling Purdue by 37 points three days after their win against Michigan State in East Lansing.
In their loss to the Buckeyes, Owusu and Katie Benzan combined for 55 points but struggled to find offense outside of these two as they fell short by two points. Regardless of recent results, the Terrapins remain one of the top teams in the conference.
Post-play and foul trouble will determine whether the Spartans after the game will complete their redemption arc or make them look like some of the college football teams exclaiming, ‘We want ‘Bama’, before being returned to reality.
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