Michigan State women’s basketball suffered its first home loss and perhaps their toughest loss of the season against Notre Dame on Thursday. The back and forth battle for the lead indicated the Spartans could have pulled off a win against the Fighting Irish, so the question that remains is “What went wrong?”
For one, MSU was out-rebounded, leading to too many second chance scoring opportunities which Notre Dame capitalized on. This is in part because the Spartans are a physically smaller team. Pre-season injuries to key veterans senior guard/forward Tory Ozment and junior forward Julia Ayrault forced the remaining players to “play up” to fill the gaps, leaving the team undersized.
“I sound like a broken record but you miss experience in Julia and Tory in size,” Michigan State women's basketball Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “Mo’s (Joiner) playing kind of out of position per say, she’s the ‘four man’ for us and she’s really a guard.”
Whether the physical size of the team will prove detrimental to the Spartans this season is still an unanswered question, but the loss proves they will have to get tougher under the basket to be considered a serious contender.
Although MSU wasn’t able to pull off a win, there were still some bright spots for them in senior guard Nia Clouden, junior guard Moira Joiner and freshman guard/forward Matilda Ekh.
Clouden continues to be consistent, leading the team with her calming presence and ability to control the court and set the tone for her teammates. She finished the game with 20 points, six assists, an impressive six rebounds and a season high three steals.
Joiner struggled initially to find her groove, but Merchant pulled her aside quickly to let her know that she could do better. Like a light switch, she immediately turned on her toughness. She had no hesitation going up against bigger opponents and knocking the ball out of their hands and handing it off the guards for a solid fast break. She also had a few well-timed three pointers, shooting 3-6 from behind the arc.
“I liked that we were tougher than we have been in the past this season and I liked that we really battled back,” Joiner said. “I think we needed to do a better job on the O (offensive) boards. We need to box out and I think we need to get more stops on the defensive end because obviously defense creates offense and that’s how we’re gonna play.”
Also shooting extremely well from behind the arc was Ekh. She continued to shoot the lights out, going 4-5 against the Fighting Irish. Something truly brilliant about her shot that sets her apart from other players is her timing. Almost all of her three pointers came when her team needed them to get them back in competition. She has consistently been unfazed by the score and time left in the game and calmly knocks down the long shots.
“I made some good threes tonight,” Ekh said. “I mean Nia (Clouden) and Alyza (Winston) find me good in the transition and also in the zone. They find me and I had an open shot so I took it.”
Going into Big Ten play Sunday the key for the Spartans will be consistency and toughness. They will have to overcome their size challenges and overpower their opponents in the paint and continue to knock down shots, especially clutch shots to keep themselves equal competitors in the game.
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