Michigan State women’s basketball will play Purdue on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten tournament in a last ditch effort to create an NCAA tournament bid. The game tips off at 11:30 ET on Big Ten Network.
The Spartans only played the Boilermakers once this season, a contest they lost 69-59 in East Lansing. MSU struggled from the perimeter, shooting a lousy 2-18 from behind the arc and 23-63 from the field.
“That’s been our biggest issue is being consistent offensively,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said. “Our margin of error is pretty small.”
In their last matchup, the Boilermaker defense was able to hold senior guard Nia Clouden, who was named first team All-Big Ten and averages 20.4 points per game, to just seven points. Their offense was also a force to be reckoned with, keeping the tempo fast paced for all four quarters. They scored 16 points off fast breaks compared to MSU’s one.
“They're doing a really good job of spacing the floor and they run a four guard system,” Merchant said. “At times they even run five guards, pressing a little bit more. Last handful of games they’ve done a really good job picking up tempo and pressure, so I think that’s something we’re gonna have to handle.”
MSU will also need to prove they are strong enough mentally to win games on the road. They are 4-7 when playing opponents on the road and 0-2 in neutral locations.
“It's a neutral floor so that’s a good thing,” Merchant said. “I mean winning anywhere on the road in the Big Ten is hard. It’s a really tough conference and it’s a grind and a challenge but everybody’s in the same boat.”
Freshmen guard DeeDee Hagemann and forward Matilda Ekh who were both named to the Big-Ten All Freshman Team and received All-Big Ten honorable mentions, understand what this tournament means to this team that has fallen on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble.
“Those three games we played last week were important and we lost all of them, so we have something to prove and I think we’re all excited to prove it,” Ekh said.
“We’ve been putting in work,” Hagemann said. “Our coaches told us it’s 0-0 going into this tournament so we just have to look at it as another season and we just have to go in there with the right mindset.”
If the Spartans hope to change their luck, they will need Ekh to break out of her recent shooting slump and return to the clutch long-range shooting she’s proven she’s capable of. In her team’s last three losses, she’s gone an uncharacteristic 4-25 from behind the arc.
“My shot hasn’t been falling these last couple games, so that’s something I gotta do better next game," Ekh said. “I’m still confident in my shot and I know that they will hopefully fall.”
Ekh and the Spartans are 14-14 overall this season and 8-9 in conference play, so a loss Thursday would undoubtedly end their chances of making the NCAA tournament as well as their season. If they do pull off a win, they’ll face an uphill battle with their next game being against Ohio State, who they lost to twice in the regular season with competition only intensifying from there with the threat of powerhouses such as Michigan, Iowa and Indiana looming ahead.
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