Michigan State women's basketball has not won a game against the Maryland Terrapins since Jan. 17, 2019.
A little over three years ago, they were on a nine-game and undefeated win streak at home, 50% in-conference, when they managed to pull off a top-10 upset over then Maryland, 77-60.
The Spartans were hungry to collect another dub, praying to inch closer to the edge of the NCAA tournament bubble and shockingly enough, they managed to pace with this top-25 team until the very last second.
Graduate forward Alisia Smith said they let Maryland punch them, but they were able to punch back.
Coming in from the half, MSU was down 32-25, shooting 36% from the field and 20% from beyond the arc. Their offense was struggling to connect with the net. They found themselves tipping into double-digit turnovers quickly, which is always a recipe for disaster, especially opposed to Maryland's mere three.
However, MSU has something that Maryland doesn't: Senior guard Nia Clouden and her famous second-half revivals.
“There's obviously a lot of things I could improve on, especially putting together a complete game instead of scoring in the second half,” Clouden said.
You could say this rivalry, for Maryland native Clouden, can get a bit personal sometimes. She popped 15 points alone in the third quarter, all from beyond the arc with a 5-for-7 accuracy to set a career-high six three-pointers – though, this wasn't so much a surprise to her because she knows she's put in the valiant time and effort to see this type of skill set build.
“As far as my whole career, it might be a little surprising because I've been playing mostly as a driver, mid-range shooter, so to be able to be a ... three-level scorer this year has taken a lot of work but I'm glad it's come into fruition,” Clouden said.
In the final four seconds of the third quarter, junior center Taiyier Parks managed to rebound to get the ball in the hands of Clouden, who took a leap of faith on the fastbreak for three additional points, beating the buzzer.
While this didn't bring the game any closer, it did get the energy and the crowd pumping. The fourth quarter only saw improvement, amid the five fouls, three back-and-forth timeouts and three missed key shots in the final 30 seconds.
“I thought our fight was good,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “But I guess a good team like that, everybody's got to show up offensively. ... I don't care (what grade) you are, we have a limited situation and against really good teams, we really need everybody with their foot on the gas and we didn't have (that tonight), that's for sure.”
Postgame, Merchant added that this might've been the first game she's coached Clouden when she has not shot a free throw. Clouden's ranked No. 3 in the country in free-throw attempts.
“That was surprising, especially for as physical as the game was,” she said.
“Defensively, we did some really good things,” Merchant continued. “We could've rebounded a little bit better. I thought maybe there was a few calls that it if could've gone our way, maybe a charge or a push off here or there that it could've kept that score a little bit lower for them.”
The Spartans struggled the most with the Terrapins' length, which seems to be a common defeat from last year. Merchant gives them credit – Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese has built an empire that can rotate one through five like nobody's business, even when one of their key starters goes down with an ankle injury in the first five minutes as junior guard Ashley Owusu did in the first half.
Clouden was stuck having to box out players like freshman guard Shyanne Sellers, who stands at 6-foot-2, a good half-foot taller, and is athletic, agile and able to cover gaps on defense.
They didn't have the physicality in Parks like they normally do and it didn't help that Smith was feeling under the weather with congestion, unable to catch her breath most times.
“I knew my team still needed me, despite my illness, so I had to play like I didn't have one,” Smith said.
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They also needed more out of freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann, Merchant said, who isn't typically someone they go to for scoring because she can bring a lot to the game without having to score, more so on other ends of the ball. Merchant added that if you're able to get eight shots put up, you need to be able to net a couple of them. Hagemann went 0-for-8 from the field, 0-for-5 from beyond the arc.
“They were tagging and sucking inside, so the outside shots were there,” Merchant said. “They're taking Nia out, they're running at Matilda, they're sucking in the paint at our bigs. We needed to loosen them up a little bit and have good opportunities and they didn't fall for her. She'll learn from that too and get better. We had to kind of adjust some things down the stretch and go with a bigger lineup.”
Their opportunities are shrinking for MSU. Seven games are left on the docket and if they want to see postseason action at all, they need to up their strategy against upcoming big teams like Michigan and Indiana, who are both comfortable in the nation's top-10 and leading the Big Ten's charge.
“We have grown a lot, from the beginning of the season,” Smith said. “We've been able to stay with teams and know that, once they get a few baskets, the game isn't over. We've grown in a lot of different ways in a lot of different positions.“
Clouden added on to that, saying this win gives them the hope and confidence going forward that they'll need to continue to be able to hang with big teams.
“Maryland's one of the best teams in our league and they have been for a really long time, even in the country and we feel like we can play with anybody now,” Clouden said.
“If we're capable of playing with this team, we're very capable of doing a lot of better things later on,” Smith finished.
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