Michigan State women's basketball's trip to the Big Apple didn't start on a high note with their brutal loss to Fordham on the road.
Following the game, The State News' women's basketball reporter Sara Tidwell had some takeaways to share on the differences in the team's ability playing at home versus on the road.
Team needs to up their aggression on both sides of the ball
After their 100-60 victory over Bryant on Friday, MSU Head Coach Suzy Merchant said she thinks the team need to up their aggression on both sides of the ball.
Not to the level that will get you personal fouls and seated on the bench, but the type that gets you to the board, gets you pure net shots and brings you success after success. The type of aggression that football Head Coach Mel Tucker would call relentless. Some aggression that offers more wins than losses and keeps your opponent on their toes throughout all 40 minutes.
“I didn't really like our competitiveness (against Bryant),” Merchant said. “I thought we were a little blah, a little flat. Bryant came in with more energy.”
She said that rebounding has been one continual issue the team has faced. In five games, the team has totaled 179 rebounds, 29 of those yesterday, and the most in one game being 44 against Niagara.
Graduate student forward Tamara Farquhar has been leading the team over the last three games with rebounds in double digits, collecting a season total of 35. Her first double-double was a stepping stone, a jumping off point if you will and she's only gone up from there. She's proved her worth at the four and has been given chance after chance, well deserved.
“She plays so hard,” Merchant said. “She played exceptional at the front of the press (against Bryant), getting her hands on the ball. She's always consistently going for the boards, she never gives in. Kinda has that Robin (Lopez) mentality.”
However, Farquhar cannot continue to be the only one doing this, or else the team will find themselves rudely awakened in the near future.
"Defensively, I think we're a little behind," Merchant added.
After yesterday's game as well, Merchant said despite them playing hard and working on the downhill for a majority of the game, she was still disappointed in their defensive play, especially against Fordham senior forward Kaitlyn Downey, who finished the afternoon with 24 points, six rebounds, one assist, three blocks and two steals.
“We were very aware of her three-point ability and I don't think our post players did a very good job of understanding how important it was to get in her space,” Merchant said. “We just didn't do it.”
Then again, big changes can't be made overnight.
The offensive against Fordham was also rocky. Merchant said that no one seemed to trust each other with the ball and wanted to go off and do their own thing when it was their possession. This was the first time she's felt this way this season and she hopes that against St. Francis BK they are able to share and move the ball over more than one or two passes.
“I appreciate that (people wanted to take over), but you've also got to be able to share and not attack them from a one through five position,” Merchant said.
She also thought they had some untimely turnovers, which hasn't been the norm. Before hitting the road, in their four game homestand, the team racked up 60 turnovers. Today alone, they added an additional 18, which is the second most so far, the first being 19 against Niagara.
“All of a sudden, things were travels that weren't travels before, hand checks that weren't hand checks before,” Merchant said. “So, some of that is just ramping up in different ... schools in different leagues, and I don't know if we're quite used to that. ... We just didn't do a good job of matching (their energy) today on the court.”
Several players could do more if given the minutes
Speaking of raising the standard, with some of the bigs out on injury reserve that would've made a huge difference on the court in games like yesterday's, Merchant needs all hands on deck. The team is a little bit younger than they typically team would like to be on the road, but that isn't stopping them from adapting and charging forward.
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We've seen a good amount of play from senior guard Nia Clouden and junior guard Alyza Winston and the ladies are surely reaping the benefits with those two leading the pack.
But what about junior center Taiyier Parks? Graduate student center Alisia Smith? Graduate student guard Laurel Jacqmain? Junior forward Jayla James? What about the freshman whose names you might not know yet like forwards Lauren Walker, Isaline Alexander and center Brooklyn Rewers? What can they bring to the table?
“We've played some kids, gave them opportunities, but I told them at the end of the game (against Bryant), 'If you get opportunities, you've got to make the most of them,'” Merchant said. “Not only in practice, but when the lights come on, how do you perform? Can you stay in front of people? Can you finish plays? Can you remember what we're supposed to be doing and do you take care of the ball? Can you finish over people?”
This is big time basketball and Merchant wants everyone to bring their A-game at all times. You've got to work, grind and compete at this level, she said, or else it goes nowhere. Merchant said she has several girls who underestimate themselves and need to raise the bar on their own expectations, which they work towards with things like one-on-one accountability.
"Some of our girls don't get that yet, how tough (you have to be),” Merchant said. “It's great you got here, but that's not enough.”
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