Michigan State women's basketball has done the impossible — defeated in-state rival the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines at the Breslin Center, claiming their biggest win of the season so far, 63-57.
The Spartans advance to 13-10 overall and 7-5 in conference play and hand Michigan just its second loss in conference play this season.
The Spartans got the start they needed by forcing a shot clock violation on Michigan’s first possession of the game. Although they got off to a hot start defensively, they struggled offensively against a stellar defensive performance from the Wolverines.
Michigan ran the court early, breaking the game open with an 8-0 run. It wasn’t until freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann hit a three-pointer almost four minutes into the game that the Spartans got on the board.
The first Spartan to figure out how to get through the Wolverine defense was junior forward Taiyier Parks, who was able to outsmart the Michigan post players and outwork them under the basket for some rebounds and putbacks that allowed the Spartans to be competitive in this game.
MSU switched up their game plan, rotating in freshman forward Isaline Alexander, freshman center Brooklyn Rewers and junior forward Jayla James throughout the game, a lineup it has seldom used this season.
Alexander capitalized on the opportunity to show off her skills in this rivalry game with a career-high 16 minutes played. She finished with seven points, two rebounds and was able to hit some clutch free throws toward the end of the first half, giving the Spartans the energy they needed to keep it a close game.
This game plan worked. The Spartans were able to hang tough with the Wolverines throughout the game. After Hagemann and Alexander went 5-5 from the free-throw line, ending the first half, MSU went into the locker room at halftime down only three points against the No. 4 team in the nation.
The Spartans came out in the second half, fired up from their first-half performance. Senior guard Nia Clouden immediately knocked down a three-pointer, followed by a bucket from graduate student forward Tamara Farquhar, giving the Spartans their first lead of the game. These two came alive in the second half, making clutch shots and creating plays for their teammates.
Clouden, who's known for her frequent trips to the free-throw line, only shot four free throws, instead relying on her driving and three-point abilities to help her finish with 20 points.
Also coming in clutch was Alexander, who had a huge three-point play in the third quarter after scoring on the pass from Hagemann and sinking the free throw, causing the Spartan bench to explode and the Breslin center to get the loudest it's been possibly this entire season.
The Wolverines started to cut into MSU's lead towards the end of the third quarter, but Clouden came in clutch, once again, with another buzzer-beater three-pointer, putting the Spartans up by nine points going into the final quarter of the game.
Although the Spartans arguably played their best basketball of the season, they struggled to stop Michigan's star senior forward Naz Hillmon, who put her advanced basketball IQ and court vision on display when she used her body to clear MSU's Parks out of the lane and clear the runway for a Wolverine layup. She finished with 27 points.
Hillmon and the Wolverines quickly cut the deficit to two, after just over two minutes of play in the fourth quarter, due to some defensive miscues from the Spartans. This is where the game remained for the next several minutes of play, with neither team being able to capitalize on any offensive opportunities.
This was until freshman guard Matilda Ekh hit a three-pointer, beating the shot clock in dramatic fashion with under five minutes left.
Clouden was then able to set up her post players for some quick buckets that put the Spartans up by five with just over three minutes to play in the game. The Wolverines began crawling their way back but were stopped almost immediately by an incredibly clutch three-pointer from Ekh, putting the Spartans up by four with 1:02 left in the game.
The Wolverines had no choice but to foul until they got possession, but a steal by Farquhar which led to her splitting a pair at the free-throw line, slashed their chances of making a last-minute comeback. A pair of free throws from Clouden was the nail in the coffin, and the Spartans came away with the win.
The Spartans will undoubtedly use the momentum from this incredible victory as they travel to Bloomington on Saturday, taking on another Big Ten powerhouse, the Indiana Hoosiers. Tipoff for this game is at 3 p.m. on BTN+.
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