It was a bit of the same story for the 2021-22 Michigan State women’s basketball team as it has been in recent years. Injuries derailed what looked to be a promising year before it even started with season-ending injuries to senior forward Tory Ozment and redshirt junior guard Julia Ayrault.
When the roster seemingly couldn’t get any thinner, guard Alyza Winston made a sudden departure to the transfer portal midseason and suddenly threw many inexperienced freshmen into the rotation sooner than expected. Mentored by senior guard Nia Clouden, freshman forward Matilda Ekh flourished, becoming a star in her own right along with freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann being thrust into the starting lineup.
Disclaimer: These moments are simply ranked in chronological order, not 1-5.
Clouden sets MSU single-game scoring record in loss
Clouden single-handedly had the best scoring performance of Michigan State basketball history, men’s or women’s, scoring 50 points in a loss against Florida Gulf Coast.
Too bad nobody could see it.
A game between a power five program and one of the best mid-major teams in the nation, budging into the top 25 at times, wasn’t televised — one of the best performances of the season was missed by the country. The 17/28 from the field performance illustrates the investment that needs to be made for women’s sports so the general public isn’t missing massive performances like this one.
Clouden’s scoring performance unfortunately could not result in a win as the matchup went into double overtime before FGCU snatched a victory at home, but a performance of this magnitude could not be left off the list.
Ekh rises to the occasion, helps down No. 4 Michigan
A bit of a time jump between the last one and this, but this was likely the best moment of the season for Michigan State.
The battle between Clouden and senior forward Naz Hillmon over the years had been one of the best star matchups in the country. Their matchups were always competitive and close, but this one would be defined by the newcomers.
After a tightly contested first half, the Spartans raced out ahead in the third quarter, outscoring the Wolverines 23-11 in the quarter. Up nine in the fourth, Michigan inevitably punched back and cut the lead back to two.
With no points scored in the last five minutes, Ekh made her mark on the rivalry with a massive heave from well beyond the arc as the shot clock expired and banked it off the backboard and in to spark the Spartans. With a minute to go and the game still on the line, Ekh stepped up again with a dagger shot to put the Spartans on top.
Freshman show potential for future in Big Ten Tourney
The Spartans’ season was on its last lifeline when they left for Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. It was the last stand for a team that needed to win the Big Ten Tourney to make the NCAA Tournament.
In game one against Purdue, both Ekh and Hagemann played all 40 minutes of the contest to help lead them to a 73-69 victory over the Boilermakers. Ekh’s 10 points and Hagemann’s stellar seven assists were crucial in giving just enough to escape with a victory.
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While game two ended in a loss to a tough Ohio State team, Ekh exploded for 21 points and seven rebounds to keep them in it. Despite the season coming to an end with injuries plaguing it from the start, the freshman in this tournament provided hope for the future for fans.
Clouden drafted in first round of WNBA Draft by Connecticut Sun
Clouden after a stellar season was selected with the last pick of the first round of the WNBA Draft. She was the first draft pick for the Spartans since Aerial Powers in 2016 at fifth overall.
With roster spots slim, Clouden had to battle to make the team this offseason, but was able to make it and has cut out a role for herself for the Connecticut Sun.
Merchant reloads in the transfer portal
This is cheating a little bit, but I truly think the significance of the additions by Merchant has been overlooked this season.
Starting with Clemson transfer guard Gabby Elliott. Elliott adds immediate wing depth at the guard position. Elliott should make an impact right away and could find herself in the starting lineup with her three and D ability that saw her average 13.6 points per game as a freshman in 2020-21. Injuries stunted her last season, but the Detroit native should make an impact right away.
Graduate transfer Stephanie Visscher brings tenacious perimeter defense to MSU and a nice scoring presence as Stephen F. Austin’s leading scorer at 14.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Visscher could also make the starting lineup next season.
Baylor graduate transfer Kamaria McDaniel, if healthy, could be the biggest get of all for MSU. At Penn State in 2019-20, McDaniel averaged 19.8 points per game for the Nittany Lions, ranking second-best in conference. McDaniel suffered a left knee injury that kept her out for the 2020-21 season and limited her to 10 games of action for Baylor.
The roster, with these three additions, allows Merchant to play many different lineups with many wings who can play multiple positions like these three, Ayrault, Moira Joiner, Ozment and Ekh alongside Hagemann at point guard and senior Taiyier Parks and sophomore Isaline Alexander running the show at center.
While last season was tough, the roster has a chance to win a lot of games and get them back to the tournament— if they stay healthy.
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