As the clock wound down in the final minutes of regulation Thursday, the Breslin Center was the loudest it had been all season. The deafening cheers of the 4,533 fans in attendance were brought on by the thought of MSU clinching its first conference win of the season over an undefeated, No. 4 Indiana team.
MSU competed with top-ranked opponents in tight matchups a handful of times this season, but has continually failed to come out on top.
The Spartans were down 17 points against No. 18 Oregon in the Phil Knight Invitational on Nov. 27, but managed to tie the game. Despite leveling the playing field, they couldn’t finish the job, falling 86-78.
Not long after, MSU suffered its third-straight loss to Georgia Tech at home 66-63 in the final seconds of the game on Dec. 1. Just four days later, the Spartans did it again, falling 76-71 to Purdue in overtime. MSU had the opportunity to knock off No. 3 Ohio State on Dec. 11 after attempting a comeback, but instead dropped its fifth straight in a 74-68 loss.
Thursday’s game was a different story. The Spartans upset No. 4 Indiana, handing the Hoosiers an 83-78 loss – their first of the season.
So what was the difference maker?
Four MSU players put up double-digit points, allowing the Spartans to maintain their momentum throughout the duration of the game.
Although the lead changed five times, Indiana never led by more than one point. Michigan State’s largest lead was 11 points in the third quarter.
Graduate guard Kamaria McDaniel has been a key offensive player all season for the green and white, and the matchup against the Hoosiers was no different. Leading the team in scoring yet again, McDaniel put up 24 points, three assists, one block and a steal.
Before the start of the season, McDaniel transferred to MSU from Baylor where she appeared in 10 games last season. Prior to that, McDaniel spent three seasons at Penn State.
“Personally, just being counted out so many times, and being in this moment and being a part of it is something I remember forever,” McDaniel said of her performance. “I'm appreciative to God, my teammates, my coaches, everyone – we believe in each other and that's all we need, is belief. So it's an amazing feeling, but we've got to get back to work.”
Sophomore guard/forward Matilda Ekh and senior forward Taiyier Parks followed McDaniel with 18 points each. Ekh, who has been another asset on offense for the Spartans this year, also notched three assists and a steal.
“Winning this game tonight meant a lot for us,” Parks said. “I feel like we fed off each other's energy and that helped us, and we stuck together to get the win.”
Meanwhile, sophomore guard DeeDee Hagemann put up 15 points of her own with eight assists and five steals.
With multiple players recording significant statistics, McDaniel said it makes MSU harder to guard since the opponent can’t “key in on” one or two players.
“It definitely helps,” McDaniel said. “I know we have a lot of people that can play basketball at a very high level on our team and it showed today. I've been knowing that they could hoop, so I'm glad everybody else can see it."
One thing that stood out to Head Coach Suzy Merchant and her players about the game was the support from the home crowd.
“They were loud,” Merchant said. “I thought they were a big factor, for us, our energy. We brought the energy, but they did too, you know. And so I think down the stretch, it was important for us to hear them so we could kind of build our confidence.”
Hagemann said the team was prepared for a big turnout and knew it had to give the fans what they came to see: a victory.
“We kind of expected it's gonna be a lot of fans since we're on break, and we just wanted to take care of our home turf,” Hagemann said. “We didn't want to lose in front of all these fans and just protect home court.”
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While this is an impressive win to add to their resume, Merchant said the Spartans are not finished yet, and they will have to work to prevent this win from being a “one-hit wonder.”
“Tomorrow's a new day, Northwestern wherever they play, they're gonna get ready for the next one, Indiana's gonna have to go get ready for the next one,” Merchant said. “The league is too good that you can't have any letdowns at all, right? So you can't be so excited about this one that you kind of lay in on the next one.”
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