Monday, September 27, 2021

FINAL: Michigan State falls to Iowa State and Ashley Joens' 33 points, 79-75

March 22, 2021
<p>Then-sophomore guard Nia Clouden (24) during the women&#x27;s basketball game against Rutgers at the Breslin Center on Feb. 13, 2020. The Spartans ended a five-game losing streak and defeated the Scarlet Knights, 57-53. </p>

Then-sophomore guard Nia Clouden (24) during the women's basketball game against Rutgers at the Breslin Center on Feb. 13, 2020. The Spartans ended a five-game losing streak and defeated the Scarlet Knights, 57-53.

Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

Sometimes, star power is too much to overcome. 

That was the case for Michigan State as they fell to Iowa state and Ashley Joens. Joens exploded for 33 points in the Cyclones' win over the Spartans.

Even with a late push on an Alyza Winston layup that made it 76-75 in the final minute, MSU still fell 79-75 in a heartbreaker to the No. 7 seed Cyclones.

“She (Joens) takes 25 dribbles and back you down and shoots it over you,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “There's no three seconds when they do that in our game so it's really advantageous and makes it difficult so we made the decision to stay home and not double her often, only when we found we needed to because she would just kick for three point shooters. I thought early on we didn't do a very good job of guarding the (three point) arc, but the rest of the game I thought we did a much better job of doing that, proud of our kids' fight.”

The Spartans were finally back to full strength as Tory Ozment and Julia Ayrault returned to the rotation for Michigan State, but played limited minutes as Moira Joiner slotted in to play at the four and pick up the tough Joens assignment.

That return to full strength would come in clutch for MSU as the team’s offense was spread out among the squad, but Michigan State ultimately fell short.

It was the Joens show right out the gates in the first quarter. She drilled a three early to get things going for Iowa State to gain a 6-2 lead.

After seven quick points from Joens, the Spartans battled back with a 7-0 run with back-to-back baskets for Janai Crooms in her first NCAA Tournament and a converted and-one from Taiyier Parks to gain an early 14-12 lead.

However, the Cyclones tightened up on the defensive end as they went on a 10-0 run. Michigan State failed to score a basket for the final three minutes of the quarter until an Alyza Winston buzzer-beater broke the cold streak for the offense.

The first half was truly a game of runs. Michigan State opened up on a 7-0 run as Ozment returned in a big way with a corner three to get the lead back after trailing by nine in the first quarter.

The Cyclones and Spartans continued to battle as Joens picked up her second foul early. Despite that, Joens would go onto finish the half with an outstanding 18 points to lead her squad to a six-point lead at the half.

The Spartans, heading into the second half, needed some production offensively from its stars Nia Clouden and Winston who only combined for 12 in the first half.

However, that wouldn’t come for the Spartans, and they had to resort to forcing the ball into the paint for their offense. Parks continuously got touches on the paint, and the Cyclones fouled her as her free throws continued to bounce off the rim.

The guards for Michigan State between Nia Clouden and Winston continued to drive the basket early, and Joens picked up her third foul of the game that placed her on the bench for a majority of the quarter to give the Spartans a chance.

Ultimately, the Cyclones continued to hold off the Spartans without their star. Kristin Scott scored the final five pints for the Cyclones in the quarter to gain a seven-point lead heading into the fourth.

With Joens coming back in for the fourth quarter, the Spartans needed their offense to rise to the occasion.

The team pulled together early in the fourth and tied it up as Joiner capped off a 7-0 run to knot up the game again.

Joens would continue her dominance though, scoring six of the Cyclones’ 8-0 run to regain their advantage they had most of the game.

Joiner, at the end of that run, would pick up a foul, take a hard fall to the ground and hit her end and would not return.

The Spartans would play hard for her down the stretch, including Ayrault who hit a three and a layup to bring the game within three for the Spartans in her return to the floor.

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Winston, who had missed her previous four shot attempts after a Joens miss would drive down the floor and hit a layup to cut the lead to one with 25.6 seconds left to give her team a chance.

Lexi Donarski was fouled after the timeout and sunk both of her free throws to get her team up three. The Spartans had a chance.

With an open look at the top of the 3-point line, Winston rose for a shot, but it would be no good and Joens in appropriate fashion would haul in the rebound to ice the game.

Despite their best efforts, the Spartans would fall short. Clouden would finish with 16 points to wrap up her First Team All-Big Ten Team season. Ozment, in her return, would play 27 minutes and scored 9 on the night.

As a team, the Spartans had six players with eight or more points, but the star power of Joens proved to be too much for MSU’s collective effort.

“This team is special and they're going to do great things in the future,” Merchant said. “We grew up a lot this entire year and certainly this will help add to that resume as well and what we can do just a little bit better.”

Joens would go on to finish with a jaw-dropping 33 points and 9 rebounds to lead her team to victory Thursday night. Madison Wise and Kristin Scott, alongside Joens, combined for 25 points to propel a solid offensive outing for the Cyclones.

In the Round of 32, the Cyclones will face Texas A&M after their scare against 15 seed Troy in their first-round matchup for an opportunity to move onto the Sweet 16.

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