Tuesday, June 25, 2024

MSU women's basketball comes up short in first round of March Madness, look to rebuild for next season

March 23, 2024
<p>Graduate student guard Moira Joiner (22) drives to the basket during the first round of March Madness matchup against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels at the Colonial Life Arena in South Carolina on March 22, 2024.</p>

Graduate student guard Moira Joiner (22) drives to the basket during the first round of March Madness matchup against the University of North Carolina Tar Heels at the Colonial Life Arena in South Carolina on March 22, 2024.

The Michigan State women’s basketball team had been playing all season with a success that not many people expected. A brand new coach, Robyn Fralick, some new faces and a recent history of not making it to the NCAA Tournament left people wondering how far this season's "trial-run" team will go. After going 22-9 in overall play and 12-6 in conference play, Michigan State's season came to an end after a close finish against the University of North Carolina ended in a 59-56 defeat, sending the Spartans home to East Lansing after the Round of 64 in March Madness.

The Spartans, throughout the season, never bought into that attitude, but rather they defied it and became what they are now calling a “redeem team."

“We said it a lot throughout the year, we're a 'redeem team,'" sophomore guard Theryn Hallock said after the team's loss to the University of North Carolina in the first round of the tournament. "I think everyone looks at us as the underdog and I mean 90% had North Carolina winning today, but they didn’t know what fight we could bring. So I think that 'redeem team' is a good place to put us because people always think that we are going to come in and lose the game, but this year wasn’t that."

The Spartans were able to overcome a lot throughout the season, from shooting struggles, communication issues and size disadvantages. Overcoming all of these challenges is part of the reason the Spartans made it all the way to the NCAA Tournament

Unfortunately, in the biggest game of the year, the Spartans just weren’t able to overcome the size of North Carolina’s players

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MSU’s tallest active player is Julia Ayrault who stands at 6-foot-2. The Tar Heels have at least five players over 6-foot-2 on their roster, and throughout the game kept at least one player of that size on the court at all times. 

This left the Spartans at a clear disadvantage from the opening tip off and by halftime, the Tar Heels already had a 10-rebound advantage over the Spartans. That advantage only became more prevalent as the game went on as the Tar Heels finished with 45 total rebounds to Michigan State’s 27. 

The worst of it all came in the final seconds of the game when the Spartans had finally scratched their way to a one-point deficit. Being down by one point, the Spartans were forced to send the Tar Heels to the free-throw line two separate times and on both attempts the Spartans were just unable to secure a rebound for a final play. 

After the game, Fralick said that rebounding, and making sure to have less of a rebounding deficit, will be a focus in the future.

While the rebounds were a key focus for the Spartans, the biggest point of the night that quickly made things emotional was that it was both graduate guard Moira Joiner’s and graduate guard/forward Tory Ozment’s final game as Spartans. 

Tears and voice breaks filled up the post-game conference for the Spartans from both coach Fralick and Joiner as both talked about the season they spent together as coach and player. 

“I thank the coaching staff and the locker room, I just told them I love them and I’m just super happy that they came to Michigan State and they decided to trust our program and decided to trust the players that were already here," Joiner said. "I wouldn’t have wanted to go out with a different coaching staff. I’m so grateful for coach Fralick and the rest of them, and Dean Lockwood for staying on staff and just super grateful. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Fralick also gave her appreciation to Joiner and Ozment for their support and willingness to play throughout the season.

“I am really, really proud of our team this season, and (Joiner) and (Ozment) are our seniors and I think one of the best feelings as a coach is when two players finish their careers, is that there’s literally no regrets, and I think that is hard,” Fralick said after the game. “They really gave us their best this whole season and they wore the Spartan jersey with a ton of pride and I am really thankful I had the opportunity to coach them."

Joiner, who has played a total of five years with the Spartans, reached multiple milestones throughout her career, one of them being this year when she reached the 1,000-point mark. She also reached a career high in scoring average as she scored right around 15.0 point per game throughout the regular season. 

Ozment had a stellar leap in her final year with the Michigan State Spartans after playing five total seasons. In her four previous seasons, the most Ozment averaged was just above six points per game, but this year alone Ozment averaged 9.8 point per game and was responsible for a majority of the points off of the bench. 

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While it was the last opportunity for these two graduating Spartans, it was truly the first for Fralick and this new core. In the first season of this team coming together, they were able to make it farther than many teams, which only gives players like Joiner hope for next season, even if she won’t be here

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“I just told them like in the locker room (they) have so much to build on and don’t be satisfied with this season and go get a Big Ten championship next year because we have a ton of people coming back and other teams don’t," Joiner said. "We’re moving on right now, and I think the returners are going to make a great mark next year.”

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