Michigan State (11-5, 6-5 Big Ten) bounced back from their loss against Northwestern in a big way by defeating Penn State (8-9, 5-8 Big Ten) 78-65 as the bench came up in a big way for the Spartans.
Slow offensive starts have killed the Spartans in road games or big games at home, but the Spartans came out the gate sizzling hot from three to gap the Nittany Lions early.
The Spartans' first bucket was a sign of things to come as Nia Clouden dished it to Moira Joiner in the corner before Penn State’s 2-3 zone could get set for a quick three.
Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant had been begging for Alyza Winston to shoot the ball more, and she responded with back to back threes to get the Spartans up double digits early to establish their dominance over the game as they led 22-11 at the end of the first quarter.
The bench came up huge in the first half as well with 25 bench points — finishing with 32 in the game from the reserves — as everyone who touched the ball seemed to get it into the basket, including Mardrekia Cook, who drove to the basket and finished with a great spin move to jumpstart a 17-2 run to begin the second quarter.
The Spartans' defense came to play as well, forcing 11 turnovers in the first half that turned into easy offense. Janai Crooms led the effort on defense with two steals and one block in the first half and dished out four assists to facilitate things on offense.
The young Nittany Lions, PSU has eight freshmen on the roster, continued to battle heading into the second half as Niya Beverley sank a three to cut the lead to 18 halfway through the third quarter. Then Alisia Smith, a former Penn State starter, ended a 7-0 run with a bucket underneath to hold onto their lead.
Julia Ayrault stuffed the stat sheet against Penn State as well, playing a huge role by crashing the offensive glass and getting good looks around the rim, as she did so to get the lead back up to 22 to end the third quarter. Ayrault would finish with 13 points and five rebounds.
The Spartans slowed down offensively in the fourth quarter as Penn State cut into the Spartans 22-point lead with a 12-1 run to cut the lead down to 12 halfway through the fourth quarter.
However, the lead would be too much to overcome for the Nittany Lions despite a solid comeback effort, outscoring the Spartans 39-30 in the second half and 22-13 in the fourth quarter.
Despite not scoring on the night, Crooms made a huge impact on the game, finishing with seven assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Smith, in her return to Penn State, shot an efficient 4-of-5 and scored 10 points.
The Spartans were incredibly efficient on the day as well, shooting 50% from the floor and 43.5% from beyond the arc.
The Nittany Lions struggled on the day, shooting 44.1% from the floor and turning the ball over 20 times. Johnasia Cash led Penn State with 16 but shot a poor 8-of-20 from the floor.
Clouden and Winston finished the game with a combined 28 points and four assists on the day.
Michigan State will look to carry this momentum into their matchup against No.12 Michigan at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, as the Wolverines return for their second game since their two-week pause.
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