Fresh off of a battle for the ages against No.11 Michigan, Michigan State (11-6) is set to take on the Purdue Boilermakers (6-12) whose train has come to a screeching halt in their six game losing skid.
In their matchup earlier this year, the Spartans came out of Mackey Arena with a 71-64 win to ring off the new year. The Spartans were led by Nia Clouden and Alisia Smith as they combined for 38 points on the afternoon.
Since their defeat, the Boilermakers are 1-9 with their one lone win coming against Wisconsin on Jan. 21.
Here are three keys to Sunday’s matchup as the Spartans and Boilermakers face off at 11:30 on Fox Sports 1.
1. Alyza Winston’s shooting
Winston has finally broken her cold streak on offense after back-to-back games scoring in double figures, including 18 points against the Wolverines in their last outing. Prior to these games, Winston was benched in favor of Moira Joiner after a significant drop off in production on offense after scoring 20, 25 and 19 against Minnesota, Iowa and Central Michigan
“For us, we need her to score the ball if we're going to be successful,” Merchant said on her radio show. “If you look at top teams, they always have two legit scorers. Obviously we’d go to the bank with Nia Clouden night in and night out. She does her job in some form or fashion and you rely on her to kind of get to that 20 point mark and Alyza is probably the next best capable person in terms of the way she can extend a defense and what’s in her bag, she just needed to do it.”
Right now, the Spartans backcourt is uplifted by the silent assassin, Clouden, but they need more.
“The kid (Clouden) just absolutely competes and with the consistency at which does it,” Merchant said on the Suzy Merchant Radio show. “I never go into a game worrying about what she’s going to give or if she’s going to show up that day...She’s a silent assassin.”
When both Winston and Clouden are going, it's hard to take down the Spartans, especially with the other weapons. For this game and the remainder of the season, the version of Winston we saw in Ann Arbor needs to stay.
2. Brooke Moore’s return
Moore, the Boilermakers second-leading scorer at 11.4 points per game, had missed one game all season long, as that was against Michigan State in their first matchup.
Moore’s ability to score the ball is something Purdue desperately missed in that matchup as they shot a poor 34.5% from the field. Moore is also the second-best three-point shooter on the team, shooting 33% from beyond the arc.
The Boilermakers have been dismal on the offensive end since their loss to Michigan State and will desperately need Moore’s production as much if not more than the Spartans need Winston’s.
3. Creating momentum for end of season run
Prior to the Penn State game last weekend, Merchant peered into the men’s practice gym and was struck by the short amount of time they had left.
“Our men have that huge video screen in their aux gym and walking out yesterday it said 25 days left in the regular season and that was like, ‘Wow’, that hits you hard,” Merchant said. “That’s under a month and we got a couple of seniors but for the most part that just kind of puts it in perspective...we have some work to do, this is a big game, every game is a big game. That’s not coach speak, that’s the reality of it.”
Michigan State as of Sunday afternoon will have less than two weeks remaining in their season and with only three games remaining in the regular season, the Spartans are running out of opportunities to claim a resume-defining win.
This game is a chance for the Spartans to get the screws tightened and get on a roll as they prepare for sneaky good Rutgers on Wednesday.
Currently listed as a No. 8 seed by ESPN’s Charlie Creme’s bracketology, the Spartans are riding on the edge and will at minimum need to take care of business and possibly even need another marquee win to ensure their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
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Purdue’s offense has been tough to watch all year, but their defense can keep them in it. As long as the Spartans don’t get caught sleeping or overlooking Purdue, Michigan State should glide in this one.
Michigan State 81 - Purdue 65
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