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Scoring droughts hold Michigan State women's basketball back again

February 9, 2021
Sophomore Moira Joiner defends the ball against Northwestern on Feb. 7, 2021.
Sophomore Moira Joiner defends the ball against Northwestern on Feb. 7, 2021.

Yet another game fell by the wayside for Michigan State women’s basketball after losing at home to Northwestern due to an offensive drought through the first half that gave the Spartans a huge hole to climb out of.

It began at home against Maryland on Jan. 7, when the Spartans shot 38.5% and only scored 14 points in the second quarter in a six-point loss for their first loss of the season. Against Nebraska the Spartans also only scored 14 points in the second quarter in their four-point loss to the Cornhuskers.

While their second game at Maryland was a poor offensive performance in all four quarters, those one-quarter droughts came back and haunted the Spartans at Indiana after they led a majority of the game, but only scored eleven to close out the game in a loss.

“If we're going to continue to be a good team, we've got to bring that for four quarters,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “I feel like, at Indiana, we brought it for three and then in the fourth quarter we just faded away a little bit. In this game in the first half, we were down like that, we scored seven points in a quarter. But yet in the third quarter, we come out and score 24. What’s the difference? The difference is effort and our energy level.”

“Let’s tap into that from the beginning of the game. Why does it take for us to be down and for us to be upset about something?”

At the half against Northwestern, Merchant gave her team some tough love and the team responded. After being down by as much as 21 in the first half, the Spartans (10-5, 5-5 Big Ten) came back and gained their first lead, but they could not hold on to complete the comeback and suffered their fifth loss.

“I really got into them, really got into them and they decided to respond,” Merchant said. “We got a lot of good opportunities, maybe if we did a better job at the free-throw line, shooting 50%, 11-for-22 seems to be something that haunted us a little bit today. I liked our effort, our energy and our toughness for sure. What I said I probably shouldn’t repeat, but it definitely seemed to catch their attention.”

Merchant needed an offensive spark, so she turned to a new offensive set by bringing out forwards Taiyier Parks and Alisia Smith to start the half. Instead of the usual four-out type offense where the guards for Michigan State drive and kick out to a shooter, give it to the big down low or take it to the rim.

Parks embraced that moment, scoring 13 points and snatching 11 rebounds to spearhead the comeback effort in the fourth.

“I think in the first half we tended to play more selfish,” Merchant said. “We didn’t move the ball or share the ball. We decided to go a bit bigger in the second half, which we had been practicing, and maybe that’s something we have to look at until our guards can be consistent. We just need to find some tough kids that can produce a little bit.”

However, the team doesn’t look at this as a bad shooting night or a talent deficiency, they see it as an effort problem.

“Like tonight and a couple of other games, you saw that we just can’t have quarters off,” Parks said. “This league is pretty good, so you have to have full games. We’re going to go back into the lab and try and make sure that we bring energy and effort all four quarters.”

The energy and effort task was passed onto Janai Crooms, who has been the catalyst for a lot of runs for Michigan State this season.

“We just gotta come out with the mentality of let’s just lock-in, let’s all be on the same page and let’s all know what we’re doing,” Crooms said. “I feel like the first half is always really shaky for us and that’s when we're in the hole, and that’s when we gotta come back in the third quarter. We put ourselves in these situations that are hard to get back out of. Moving forward, we have to just notice that.”

Opportunities for big wins are dwindling and the Spartans have no games against AP Top 25 opponents.

However, Merchant does believe their game against Michigan will happen and that a matchup against Ohio State has been scheduled, but the date was unclear.

Regardless, opportunities to prove this team is legitimate are running out.

“It’s come down to two games at home between Nebraska and this one where if we bring energy and toughness for 40 minutes, we might have a different outcome,” Merchant said. “Lessons to be learned, but we're running out of time to learn them. I told them, ‘next game, we better bring it for 40 minutes because everyone is good enough to beat you in this league.’”

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