The Wolverines’ star Naz Hillmon exploded in Ann Arbor, scoring 31 points along with seven rebounds as Michigan rolled against the Spartans at home.
FINAL: No. 11 Michigan 86, MSU 82, Nia Clouden and Naz Hillmon duel in rivalry classic
Clouden scored 34 and it wasn't enough as the Spartans lost another game to an AP Top 25 opponent.
Michigan was fresh off a long pause due to COVID-19 issues within their program and struggled on offense in their first matchup with the Boilermakers last Thursday. To combat that, the Wolverines gave the ball to their star in the post repeatedly, and the Spartans had no answer.
This game was different that just about any edition of this rivalry with the pandemic, as usually fans pack the stands, but that wasn't the case on Tuesday evening.
(7:40 Suzy) “You always feel the rivalry, but it definitely did not feel like normal,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “We usually have three busloads of Spartan fans screaming and yelling and it's pretty live in there. Then when they come to our place, they can get pretty crazy there too.”
In the first, Hillmon began the game 5-for-5 from the field with 12 points to get her team rolling early as she established her position in the post and had good looks at the basket.
Hillmon also caused issues for the Spartans and their foul trouble as both Taiyier Parks and Mardrekia Cook each picked up two quick fouls, which limited any chance of trying to guard Hillmon one-on-one with a lack of depth in the post with those two on the bench.
“Naz got away from us in the first quarter, badly,” Merchant said. “We were doubling her, trying to mix it up where we did or didn’t, but it didn't matter. I mean she's just an absolute beast, she works her butt off and she plays harder than anyone in the country. That's a fact. She ducks in, seals, sprints the floor and goes for every rebound. She's leaned out, lost weight, it looks like she's in great physical condition.”
The Spartans continued to hang around in the first half as Clouden brought her consistent production to Ann Arbor to lead her offense. As the Wolverines looked to take a 16 point lead into the half, Clouden finished the half on a 5-0 run as she finished with 14 points in the half.
The Spartans struggled to find consistent scoring outside of Clouden though. Julia Ayrault looked likely to be that player early with a three-point basket and three blocks in the first half but was unable to add to her point total in the first half after her three to begin the half.
The Spartans carried that momentum into the second half as Alyza Winston stepped up alongside Clouden on the offensive end, scoring 10 points in the third quarter to cut the lead to six heading into the fourth quarter.
Cook played a huge role in the third, holding Hillmon to five points in the third after she scored 20 in the first half.
Both Hillmon and the Wolverines' second-leading scorer Leigha Brown picked up their fourth foul in the third quarter, giving the Spartans a chance in the fourth quarter to steal a win.
Clouden began the fourth in a big way after a Michigan turnover, drilling a three off of the dribble to cut the lead to three. However, it was time for Brown and Hillmon to come back despite the foul trouble.
They both responded quickly with Brown drilling a three and sinking a layup along with Hillmon’s bucket inside to get the lead back to 10 with three minutes left to go to make it extremely difficult for the Spartans to come back.
Despite a mighty effort from Clouden to trim the lead down to 83-78 with :59 in the fourth on back-to-back baskets, MSU wasn't able to finish.
Michigan State despite a solid offensive performance, shot 46% and had 24 points on Michigan’s 12 turnovers.
Clouden ended the day with 34 points – a career-high – and eight rebounds but only finished with one assist as the team struggled with assists on the day, finishing with only three. Winston finished with 18 points as her team had been needing for a long time.
“That was a problem because we had been leading the country or top five in the country in assists in the nation and assist to turnover ratio,” Merchant said. “That was a little disappointing, some of that was we had some nice passes and just people didn’t knock down the shot. There's some of that, but we did try to put the ball on the floor a little bit more, more with that dribble drive kind of action, which leads into less assists sometimes because you're putting the ball on the floor trying to get to the rim, but that was a little disappointing to see that number.”
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The Wolverines shot an efficient 50% from the field along with 50 points in the paint on the day.
Michigan State will make the short trip home to face Purdue on Sunday as they look to complete the series sweep on the Boilermakers this season.