Saturday, October 23, 2021

FINAL: Nia Clouden uplifts Spartans over Illinois, 81-60

February 4, 2021
<p>Janai Crooms (23) scores in the Spartans&#x27; victory over University of Illinois on Feb. 4.</p>

Janai Crooms (23) scores in the Spartans' victory over University of Illinois on Feb. 4.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

Poor offense held the Spartans back in their back-to-back losses last week, but Michigan State women’s basketball exploded against Illinois on Thursday night, downing the Fighting Illini 81-60 at the Breslin Center.

Michigan State women’s basketball Head Coach Suzy Merchant opted to place Moira Joiner into the starting lineup instead of Alyza Winston after her struggles during Big Ten play for this matchup hoping to spark the Spartans on the offensive end.

It was a track meet in the first quarter as both teams had big runs to get their offenses going on the night. It began with Nia Clouden taking over with a 10-0 run by herself, including scoring or assisting on 15 of the Spartans' first 17 points as they found themselves up 15-4 early in the game.

The Illini bounced right back on the back of its three-point shooting, including back-to-back threes from East Lansing native Aaliyah Nye to cut the lead back down to two.

However, a 7-0 run got the Spartans back in control to end the first quarter as Mardrekia Cook made an instant impact off the bench with five quick points.

Another pair of threes from Nye and Jada Peebles got the Illini within six, but the Spartans’ offense was too much to handle for the Illini as they racked off a 14-0 run, capped off by an incredible pass in transition by Clouden to Joiner for an open three and another three from Clouden, who scored 17 just in the first half.

The Spartans' defense turned into easy offense on the other end as they forced 14 turnovers for 23 points off of turnovers just in the first half as they led 51-28 going into halftime.

The Spartans cooled off in the third quarter from the field as they shot 25% in the third, but the Spartans continued to dominate on the defensive end to retain their lead.

Clouden continued her effort on the offensive end to keep the Spartans afloat as well. Late in the third, Clouden tipped the ball ahead for a rebound and finished the and-one in transition as her teammate Janai Crooms rocked the baby to sleep in celebration from the sideline.

Illinois kept fighting in the third as they cut the lead to 14 on the back of a pair of threes from Aaliyah McQueen.

However, the large hole the Illini fell into in the first half was too much to overcome in the fourth quarter as the Spartans finished off the fourth quarter.

The Spartans after struggling offensively in their last few outings thrived, shooting 46.8% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc. Those percentages were aided by their play on the defensive end, forcing 23 turnovers for 23 points off of Illinois’ mistakes.

Clouden finished the night with 28 just shy of her career-high of 32 points. Clouden also racked up five assists and six rebounds along with her scoring efforts. Alisia Smith continued her consistent post-play, scoring 10 points and hauling in seven rebounds.

The Illini struggled offensively on the night, shooting a poor 41.1% from the field. Three-point shooting was the one saving grace for the Illini despite only shooting 25% on the season as they shot 38.9%.

Nye in her return to East Lansing finished with nine points on 3-7 shooting, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. Peebles and McQueen combined for 23 points to carry the struggling Illini offense.

The Spartans are hoping this win will help them break out of their recent funk as they lost four of their last five games prior to their win over Illinois on Thursday.

Michigan State will look to get their first win against an AP Top 25 opponent on Sunday against No. 22 Northwestern.

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