Monday, September 27, 2021

FINAL: Iowa 87, MSU 72, Spartans' Big Ten Tournament run comes to an end against Iowa

March 12, 2021
Joiner blocks an Iowa player's view during the first quarter of the game. The Spartans fell to the Hawkeyes, 87-72, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Mar. 12, 2021.
Joiner blocks an Iowa player's view during the first quarter of the game. The Spartans fell to the Hawkeyes, 87-72, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Mar. 12, 2021. —
Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

Sometimes the postseason becomes a war of attrition.

That was true for Michigan State as injuries became too much to overcome. Iowa’s explosive offense took down the Spartans, 87-72.

The Spartans were short handed in this one as Tory Ozment was out after suffering an achilles strain against Indiana in their last outing. Julia Ayrault remained out of the lineup due to her concussion and remains day to day. 

Both injuries came along with the wear and tear on players like Mardrekia Cook (torn meniscus), Taiyier Parks and Moira Joiner who were all playing through injuries on Friday afternoon.

“We left here pretty banged up to be honest,” Merchant said postgame. “My starting four-man couldn’t play today and coming into the tournament, we lost the person who was playing that four spot. So I moved my three to our four. We had a really bad position, we had some kids who were banged up. Not being an excuse, I think you learn to grow up and find other people and find other ways.”

The offenses were firing on both ends. Michigan State and Iowa traded baskets back and forth in the first quarter. The Spartans established dominance down low on Iowa’s weak interior defense as Alisia Smith scored the first seven points for the Spartans.

It was then Nia Clouden’s turn after scoring 30 points the prior night against Indiana. She also scored seven consecutive points for the Spartans.

The Hawkeyes continued to fight back though as their freshman star Caitlin Clark, who is averaging 27.2 points per game on the season, ran their offense with ease by racking up six points and five assists to have the game tied at 24 to enter the second quarter.

The injuries for Michigan State forced them to look further down the bench for bodies to join the game. That allowed Indiana native Kendall Bostic to have an expanded role and Laurel Jacqmain to get minutes.

Bostic took advantage of the moment, scoring six points in the first half in the midrange as she fired up the bench with her offense. 

“I thought Kendall came in and gave us good minutes as a freshman,” Merchant said. “She had 13 points and shot the ball really well. It’s been hard to find her minutes over a Tory or over a Julia Ayrault, but now with those kids injured for the time being, we were able to find minutes for her today and I thought she did a nice job.”

The Iowa bigs began to cause problems for Michigan State as they picked up the slack on offense for Clark who struggled in the half, failing to score in the second quarter. Monika Czinano, before picking up her second foul of the half, exploited the Spartans' interior defense, scoring 13 on 6-7 shooting. Clark continued to dish out assists in the first half with her shot not falling.

Clark was mainly shut down by Joiner, who took on the challenge of guarding Clark for most of the night and did a superb job early by holding her to six points in the half.

Cook’s 3-pointer with just seconds remaining would be the difference in the first half, as Michigan State led 41-40.

Clark would not go down quietly though, as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and someone who had a legitimate argument for both the Big Ten Player of the Year and National Player of the Year stepped up to the plate in the third.

As the game continued to go back and forth, Clark drove into the lane and completed the and-one for her first field goal since the first quarter to regain the lead.

Her three as time expired in the third quarter completed an 8-2 run for the Hawkeyes. They gained their biggest lead of the night at seven as they went into the fourth quarter.

Bostic did her best to keep the game within reach, scoring the Spartans' first five points of the quarter, but the pairing of Czinano and Clark became too much to handle as they contributed eight points to the Hawkeyes 11-0 run to gain a 15-point lead that ultimately was too much to come back from for the Spartans.

The Hawkeyes would finish the night shooting an efficient 46.9% from the floor as well as shooting 90.5% from the charity stripe. Clark would finish with 20 points and an outstanding 11 assists. Czinano, who was a consistent offensive presence all night, led the Hawkeyes with 27 points and six rebounds.

Clouden would finish the night with a stuffed stat sheet, scoring 24 points and racking up seven rebounds and four assists. Bostic, in her home state, would go on to finish with 13 points.

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Michigan State, with their win over Indiana, likely cemented their bid for the NCAA Tournament and will wait for their name to be called on Monday night before they head to the greater Texas area for the tourney.

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