The Michigan State women's basketball team (6-2) has been getting a taste of their own medicine as of late. They caught the worst of it today against Marshall (3-2), but overcame adversity and remain undefeated at home with yet another 85-75 victory.
The first half of the game was rocky. Marshall sophomore guard Savannah Wheeler had collected 19 points on her own by halftime, going 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. Despite her smaller 5-foot-6 stature, she proved to be a problem early and went on to finish with 30 points after fouling out in the final 12 seconds.
Her teammate, freshman guard Kennedi Colclough collected an additional 11 points to put Marshall up six points and counting at the half. MSU was having trouble defending beyond the arc and in the paint, allowing Marshall to get 16 rebounds and 11 points off of eight Spartan turnovers. Colclough added 8 more points in the second half, but it was not enough.
This same narrative happened at Oakland: the Spartans leave a girl they don't find threatening to the board unguarded, even just for a split second, only for her to then get her hands on the ball and counter a sneak attack. It's something Head Coach Suzy Merchant has been stressing since game four against Bryant and it has cost them quite a bit of suffering in overall scoring. The defense needs to get aggressive as the opponents get tougher or they'll be out for the count faster than they can comprehend.
"We've got to be able to guard better and rebound better. We're really missing that now that we lost Julia [Ayrault] and Tory [Ozment] – those are big guards, big-sized kids that can defend perimeter and post. We're a little smaller than anticipated, so we're going to have to (beef up), get bigger, stronger and more physical," Merchant said postgame. "Our defense in the first half was pretty lackluster, but I liked our fight in the second half. We were able to put together some stops and capitalize and that's what we need to be able to do (all the time) down the stretch."
At the half, MSU was shooting 54% from the field, 67% from beyond the arc and 92% from the stripe. Even led by senior and freshman guards Nia Clouden and DeeDee Hagemann with 21 total points, they were still suffocating.
Junior guard Alyza Winston was having an off day and that was evident on her face when her shot missed with five minutes left in the third quarter. She scored a total of zero points in 20 minutes, going 0-for-1 from her comfortable position on the outskirts of the field and it didn't improve by the final buzzer.
In addition to that, freshman guard/forward and Swedish native Matilda Ekh only had two points. This was a big difference from her career-high of 17 points Friday. She finished with four, after going 2-for-2 from the line in the final seconds to push MSU up 10.
A three from junior guard Moira Joiner pushed the Spartans back into the lead for the first time since the start of the second quarter, with 1:13 left on the clock in the third quarter. However, Wheeler went to the line and tied it up. The final 10 minutes were life or death for the Spartan ladies and they didn't disappoint.
Clouden went to the bench with four personal fouls at the end of the third. She finished the afternoon with 24 points for her fifth consecutive 20+ point game and another new season-high.
Graduate forward Alisia Smith and freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann added an additional 35 points – Hagemann set a career-high of 15 points and Smith set a new career-high of 20 points, surpassing her previous records at MSU and coming within two of her career-high at Penn State which is 22.
The Spartans (6-2) look ahead to Thursday, Dec. 2, where they will host Notre Dame (6-1) in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The challenge was not played last season due to the pandemic. This will be the last non-conference matchup before the Big Ten campaign begins on Sunday, Dec. 5.
Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.
The Fighting Irish will be coming in from their Daytona Beach Invitational, where they upset No. 16 Oregon State 64-62 in their first AP-ranked win of Head Coach Niele Ivey's era.
"We're about to find out (where this team is at as we enter a big stretch of games," Merchant said. "I think our toughness has to get a little grittier, people have to be consistent in the way they perform too. We've got to go to work because Notre Dame is really good. They have size and power. We're looking at about an eight man rotation right now based on a lot of different factors, including how they perform in practice."
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