Tuesday, February 27, 2024

A look at ten of Suzy Merchant's best moments at Michigan State

March 14, 2023
<p>Head Coach Suzy Merchant speaks to the team during the game against Eastern Michigan Nov. 5, 2019 at the Breslin Center.</p>

Head Coach Suzy Merchant speaks to the team during the game against Eastern Michigan Nov. 5, 2019 at the Breslin Center.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

There is no denying the fact that former Michigan State head women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant has cemented her legacy at the university.

Merchant released a statement on Monday that she will be stepping down from her role as head coach at Michigan State due to health reasons, effective immediately. She was involved in a car accident in January that sidelined her from coaching for the rest of the 2022-23 season. 

Born and raised in Michigan, Merchant began her coaching career at Saginaw Valley State and Eastern Michigan before being named the next MSU head coach in April of 2007.

During her 16 seasons at MSU, she became the second-winningest head coach in program history, with an overall record of 327-168 for the Spartans. Merchant also reached 10 NCAA Tournament appearances to go along with two Big Ten titles. 

Though the recent decision for Merchant to step down is a hard goodbye for the sport, the amount of excitement she provided to MSU over the course of her career will never be forgotten. Here are ten of Merchant’s best moments as a Spartan.

2009 Sweet Sixteen run

The Spartan’s 2008-09 season was one to remember. MSU finished 24-11, and 14-2 at home during the campaign. Michigan State earned a No. 9 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament where they would face No. 8 seeded Middle Tennessee. Merchant would earn her first career win in the NCAA Tournament as Michigan State prevailed 60-59.

The Blue Raiders had the nation’s leading scorer during the season, Alysha Clark, who had 34 points before she fouled out with just under two minutes to play. When Clark was substituted for the rest of the game, Merchant recognized it was time to take control of the game. 

Michigan State advanced to the round of 32 where they would face No. 1 seeded Duke in what seemed to be a probable ending to the season for the green and white. 

The Spartans weren’t ready for their season to end. They led the Blue Devils 25-20 at halftime and didn’t let up. Duke didn’t score for the final seven and a half minutes of the game, and MSU was able to close out the game and win comfortably, winning 63-49. 

For the first time since 2006, Michigan State advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, where they took on Iowa State. The Cyclones ultimately closed the game on an 8-0 run to win 69-68 and put an end to the incredible season for Suzy Merchant and MSU. 

Despite the result to Iowa State, Merchant proved that she had what it takes to keep the Spartans in contention.

500th career win

Suzy Merchant notched her 500th career win in a 73-62 win over Valparaiso in November 2021. A ceremony with balloons, posters, and family provided an emotional moment for Merchant. 

“One thing I'll say is to get all 500 of them, I'm really blessed that all 500 of mine came in the state of Michigan where I'm from and that does not happen in our business very often,” Merchant said after the game on the MSU Athletics website. 

Her 327 wins at Michigan State put her 49 shy of becoming the winningest coach in school history behind Karen Langeland. Merchant’s 54 wins at Saginaw Valley State and her 147 at Eastern Michigan combine for a total coaching record of 528-307.

Merchant also earned her 300th career win at MSU the same week, defeating Bryant 100-60.

Tori Jankoska becomes MSU all-time scoring leader

Tori Jankoska solidified herself as one of the best players Suzy Merchant ever coached during a record-breaking night on Jan. 10, 2017. Jankoska scored 42 points in an upset win over No. 11 ranked Ohio State, breaking the MSU scoring record for points in a game, and the all-time scoring record in program history. She passed her teammate Aerial Powers' mark of 1,187 points and finished her career scoring 2,212 total. 

Jankoska’s halftime point total sat at 31 points, which blew Coach Merchant away. Merchant explained how she had more than 20 points in halves before, but this performance was one of a kind. 

Jankoska became one of three players in the Suzy Merchant era to go to the WNBA. She was drafted by the Chicago Sky with the ninth overall selection in the draft, and eventually joined the University of Virginia women’s basketball coaching staff in 2022. 

First win at MSU

The three years that Merchant spent at Saginaw Valley State were the kickstarter for her success down the road. In her first game coaching Michigan State, Merchant had the opportunity to face Grand Valley State in an opening exhibition game. 

Merchant earned her first official win at MSU by defeating Grand Valley State 72-42 in blowout fashion. 

After the game when Suzy Merchant spoke to the press, she explained her emotions throughout the night.

I kind of got choked up out there, this is a really special place,” Merchant said on the MSU Athletics website. “Every coach here believes in Michigan State. I am still humbled about the opportunity. I am so proud to be a Spartan. I just want to do the best I can.”

100th MSU win

Merchant claimed her 100th career coaching win at MSU rather quickly. The Spartans defeated Oakland University 67-42 on Nov. 27, 2011, behind a second-half awakening. 

With the win, Merchant reached the milestone in just 142 games, becoming the quickest women’s basketball coach in program history to achieve the feat. The previous mark was set at 155 games by Karen Langeland and Joanne P. McCallie. 

As she gained more coaching experience, Merchant was able to downplay her achievements as they crept up. In her presser after the game, she explained how it was almost an afterthought to this point.

“I don't really think about that,” Merchant said. “I always just think about the next game, trying to put our team in the position to be successful and get better every day.”

Upset win against Michigan in 2022

The 2021-22 season for the Spartans is rather forgettable as injuries before and during the season riddled their chances of a competitive run. Merchant and her team were not afraid to give teams their best shot, however.

Feb. 10, 2022, was the annual Pink Game at the Breslin Center to support breast cancer awareness. The magic was in the air for MSU as they narrowly defeated No. 4 ranked Michigan 63-57 in arguably their best win since the 2018 season. 

Their win snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Wolverines. Though the Spartans would fall to Michigan a few weeks later in the season, it is hard to ignore the performance displayed by MSU with all they fought through that season.

Big Ten Coach of the Year

2010-11 was one of the best seasons of Suzy Merchant’s Spartan career, as the team finished 27-6 overall and 15-1 in games played at the Breslin that season. It was a strong Big Ten campaign for the team as they went 13-3 in conference play as well.

All signs were pointing to this being one of the best seasons in recent memory. MSU advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, though they fell to Ohio State 72-57. 

The Spartans obtained a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and beat No. 13 seeded Northern Iowa in the first round 69-66. MSU advanced to take on No. 5 seeded Green Bay in the round of 32, but couldn’t get past the Phoenix as they lost 65-56.

Despite the rather quick postseason exit, Suzy Merchant was awarded Big Ten Coach of the Year honors for her excellent performance throughout the conference and season overall. She was the third Michigan State coach in women’s basketball history to achieve such an award. 

Impact and empowerment

With all the success that Suzy Merchant has on the court, her dedication off the floor is just as important. 

In 2016, Merchant helped create the EmpowHER Retreat. The organization is designed to help girls boost their confidence by providing interactive activities that highlight many different self-value skills for young women. 

Merchant received two awards related to her dedication, including the ATHENA Leadership Award by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce and the inaugural Community Impact Award by The Davies Project as a result of her work with her retreat. 

The recognition Merchant received helped highlight her values outside of basketball. 

2007-08 debut season

In her first year coaching Michigan State, Merchant helped coach the team to one of the best debut seasons for a coach in the history of the university. The Spartans finished 25-14 and were on the brink of an NCAA Tournament appearance.

The team made it to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament against Illinois, but fell short 54-46.

Though the Spartans lost in the conference tournament, they qualified for the WNIT and had an amazing run. 

Michigan State defeated Bowling Green in the second round 74-66. In the third round, they beat Kansas 58-44. Continuing their success, they took down Michigan in the fourth round 45-40 in overtime.

The Spartans showed their ability to push past adversity in the semifinals as they earned a resilient one-point win over North Carolina State, 58-57. 

Merchant’s first season came to an end with a loss in the WNIT Championship Game 81-66. Nevertheless, the new era for MSU was off to a great start. 

2011 Big Ten Championship

On top of Merchant’s Big Ten Coach of the Year nod, the Spartans were able to win the Big Ten outright as they finished the season 13-3 in conference play and 27-6 overall. 

Those 27 wins were also the second most for a season in Michigan State women’s basketball history.

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