Michigan State women’s basketball was unable to complete the sweep against the Penn State Nittany Lions, losing 79-71 at the Breslin Center. This loss deals a major blow to their NCAA Tournament chances as they fall to 14-12 overall and 8-7 in conference play.
This matchup was quite different from the last time these two teams met in Happy Valley, a game the Spartans dominated from beginning to end.
They got off to a slow start defensively, seemingly unable to guard the three-point-line or the drive from the Nittany Lions. Penn State shot 6-12 from behind the arc in just the first half and was able to blow past the Spartan defense into the key with ease.
"We knew we had to guard the arc," Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. "We didn't do a very good job of it against Wisconsin. They recognize that. We worked on it and again we came out very flat in that first quarter. I don't know why we were shocked they were hitting threes in our face and were open, so our urgency was very dissapointing from that standpoint."
The Spartans also had quite the scare early in the game when freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann in her first game back from concussion protocol took a hard fall and smacked her head on the floor. The crowd collectively held their breath before she was helped up by Merchant and an athletic trainer and gave a thumbs up to the fans to let them know she was okay. She returned to play almost two minutes later and was able to continue for the rest of the game.
The driving offensive force for Penn State, junior guard Makenna Marisa, came to East Lansing ready to play — outperforming MSU senior guard Nia Clouden. Clouden only scored eight points in the first half compared to Marisa’s 16, but still tied with graduate student forward Tamara Farquhar, who also had eight points, to lead the Spartans going into the locker room.
Despite the shaky inconsistent play that was on display in tonight's game, Farquhar stood out as someone the team could rely on. Not only was she only one point away from a double double, finishing with nine points and 13 rebounds, she also had several hustle plays that can't be measured by any statistics such as when battled a Penn State defender to prevent a turnover for her team and saved them from giving up a quick two points.
"We obviously know that we've been on the bubble for some time now so we know that all of these games are really important, but I definitely think that we could be more vocal about how important these games are in the moment," Farquhar said.
Things only deteriorated for MSU when they came out of the tunnel for the second half. It didn't take long for the Nittany Lions to take a 12-point lead with several points coming off the fastbreak that the Spartans didn't seem to have the stamina to defend.
After a much needed timeout, they were able to score five quick points off a layup from junior center Taiyier Parks and a three pointer from freshman guard Matilda Ekh, who is known for such clutch shots. Parks once again worked her way to the basket to cut the lead to five, but was quickly silenced with a three pointer from Penn State's graduate student guard Kelly Jekot.
For the remainder of the third quarter Penn State was able to keep a solid lead over MSU but the Spartans kept chopping away at their lead, cutting it seven to begin the fourth quarter. Despite the strides they were able to make towards to end of the third, they still struggled to defend the fast break, something that really killed the momentum they had built going into the final quarter.
After two minutes of play in the fourth quarter Clouden and Hagemann brought the team within four after back-to-back buckets. Like most of the progress made during this game, it was quickly silenced by a Penn State three-pointer that drew the energy back to the Nittany Lions.
However, Penn State forgot that the Spartans have Ekh, who has a knack for knocking down a long range three at clutch moments. She went 4-8 from behind the arc including one three pointer that got the Spartans within three with under three minutes to play in the game. Then fellow freshman Hagemann got herself in excellent position and knocked down a three to bring the Spartans within two points with under two minutes to play, the closest the game had been since tipoff.
Marisa in her usual fashion drew the foul on a made layup to complete the three-point-play, adding to Penn State's lead and create an even bigger hole for the Spartans to dig out of — and one that would be the final dagger in this matchup.
"Urgency should be really on the top of our minds every game," Clouden said. "We've kind of had two games in a row where we've been lacking that and I think it's due to fatigue. It's February, we've been playing a bunch of games by now and on top of the injuries everyone's been playing extra extra minutes, but we need to be more urgent especially going into Michigan."
The Spartans will travel to Ann Arbor Thursday to take on No.6 Michigan who they beat at home earlier this season in a shocking upset before returning home to take on No. 17 Ohio State to end the regular season.
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