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Tory Ozment sinks Purdue and keeps MSU NCAA Tournament hopes afloat

February 22, 2021
Tory Ozment (1) prepares to shoot the game-winning shot against Purdue on Feb. 21, 2021.
Tory Ozment (1) prepares to shoot the game-winning shot against Purdue on Feb. 21, 2021. —
Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

This game wasn’t supposed to go like this.

A struggling Purdue squad on a six-game losing streak who was down 11 to Michigan State in the first quarter suddenly found themselves up nine with three minutes left to go.

A loss would have been a blow to Michigan State’s NCAA Tournament hopes, but a win kept them on track.

With seconds left to go, Michigan State forward Tory Ozment took the biggest shot of her Michigan State career as her squad was tied with Purdue. 

As she caught the ball off a pass from the person everyone thought would shoot, Ozment set her feet and fired.

Swish.

Then came the eruption of pure elation as MSU's bench sprinted onto the floor screaming.

"Yeah, it felt really good coming off,” Ozment said. “I can just hear Suzy in the background, ‘Tory, pop, pop, pop!’ I saw the defender going to go toward Nia (Clouden), who wouldn’t. I saw them creep toward Nia, and I got enough space and it felt great coming off.”

With the shot, a wave of relief fell over Suzy Merchant as she realized her team had escaped a post-season-hopes-shattering loss.

“It was right in front of me," Merchant said. "It looked really good. It was right on line. I think Tory is a kid sometimes that passes up opportunities or over-passes at times or when she has an opportunity she would rather give it up to someone else, which is a good quality to have, but with 1.2 seconds left on that kick, you don’t really have a choice.”

To see Ozment hit that shot meant the world to her teammates who know what she battled.

“I knew that they were going to double Nia, so the fact that she popped in and was wide open and the girl was late was just amazing,” Michigan State forward Alisia Smith said. “It was just a wonderful thing to watch the ball go through the net at the end.”

That game-winning basket meant more than a highlight clip for Ozment. It marked the moment she had returned to normalcy.

After testing positive for COVID-19 and dropping out of the starting lineup in January, Ozment struggled in her return and in finding her spot in the rotation.

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“It’s been tough,” Ozment said. “When you have it, you're out, and you literally can’t do anything. You can’t run, so you’re just sitting. To get back in the flow of things and running up and down the court shooting takes time to get back. There’s so many other players in college basketball that have experienced that too, and it takes time, but I’ve had a lot of teammates step up, and there’s been a lot of people playing well, so I’m super proud of them.”

It’s a tough thing for a coach losing a glue starter piece, but against Purdue, Ozment filled the role Merchant needed.

“Just having to sit out, even those she’s in great shape you don’t know,” Merchant said. “COVID affects everybody in this country differently, and so we started to see her progress in terms of her lungs and her fitness, and she started to look like her old self. She certainly did a really nice job in the high post for us down the stretch but to be able to extend that as a four-man that can shoot it against the zone was big. Credit Nia Clouden for pulling in the defense and making the extra pass down the stretch and for Tory to knock it down. It was a great moment for her and our team.”

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While the initial stat line may not impress — seven points and three rebounds — Ozment played tremendous minutes down the stretch, finishing with the second-highest plus-minus on the team.

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“I just thought Tory was mobile-y better and again, Tory is a better defender than Julia (Ayrault), so we were down and needed some defense," Merchant said. "We were extending a bit. Tory can bring us that offense as well. ... I look at Tory and I see a kid that can really help us from the three and the four spot and being able to go back and forth, and we needed that from her today.”

“This is definitely one of my top moments for sure,” Ozment said. “This being the pink game too, it’s just a bigger game. It’s about more than just basketball, so winning this game means a lot, definitely one of my top moments.”

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