Gussert, injury-riddled Spartans upset No. 21 Wolverines at home

EAST LANSING, Mich.Sunday afternoon, for the annual Think Pink game at the Breslin Center, the Michigan State women’s basketball team (15-11, 5-8 in the B1G) took on the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines (20-7, 9-5). The Spartans looked to end their six-game losing streak and tie the season series with Michigan at one apiece. Ultimately, the Spartans came out on top 66-61, upsetting their archrivals.

The Spartans came out strong and energized in the first quarter. Offensively, the Spartans shot a scorching 57-percent from the field and 60-percent from behind the arc. Redshirt senior Branndais Agee led the Spartans with five points in the quarter.

On the defensive end is where the Spartans made their mark, playing tough interior defense and not allowing center Hallie Thome to get position down low. Thome did not register a made field goal in the quarter, but was able to get points at the line, going 6-for-6. Defensive credit goes to sophomore guard Taryn McCutcheon who made life hard for Michigan guard Katelynn Flaherty. Flaherty came away with nine points in the quarter, but had to work hard to get it.

“I told her (McCutcheon) after the game, we’ve played four years against Flaherty and she’s really really good, and I thought Tori (Jankoska) the last few years had done a pretty good job on her,” said coach Suzy Merchant. “But, that’s probably the best I’ve ever seen anybody.”

The Spartans also forced Michigan into eight turnovers, scoring 12 points off of them.

The second quarter saw the Wolverines try and make a run, but they were held off due to the heroics of senior guard Lexi Gussert who finished the half with 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting. Gussert did not play in the first game against Michigan in Ann Arbor due to a fractured arm, but was crucial in this game. However, Michigan did find a way to limit their turnovers only coughing the ball up three times. Thome also found her shot, making two easy baskets off the pick and roll against Spartan forward Kennedy Johnson. Thome finished the half with 12 points, leading all Wolverine players.

Both teams struggled offensively to start the second half as MSU shot just 29-percent from the field to Michigan’s 36-percent. However, MSU was able to force seven turnovers and limit the Wolverine offense. Thome came out strong, making her first two shots down low, but didn’t register another field goal after the 7:47 mark. The third quarter ended with a 10-point lead for the Spartans, 55-45.

MSU’s offensive struggles continued into the fourth quarter, where they shot just 20-percent from the field. The Wolverines opened the quarter with two three-pointers from freshman guard Deja Church and freshman forward Hailey Brown that cut the lead to five, 55-51. The game remained close — then, Flaherty, as she’s done for Michigan all season long, knocked down a three-pointer to cut the lead to three with 1:26 remaining. Michigan had a chance to tie or at least get the game within one with 36.7 seconds left, but failed to get a shot off before the shot clock expired.

“That was big, I thought our kids dug down, I thought about changing out one kid in there, just from a defensive perspective, but I just, it seemed like that team was going to have a little bit of will to them,” Merchant said.

The Wolverines then fouled redshirt sophomore Victoria Gaines, who sank both free throws to seal the Spartan victory.

The Spartans will look to carry the momentum from this upset victory into their next game against Nebraska (17-7, 8-3) on Wednesday, Feb. 14th at 7:00 p.m. in East Lansing on BTN+.