On Sunday, the No. 21 Michigan State Spartans made history.
They conquered the Indiana Hoosiers, 76-56, to clinch the Big Ten Title for the fourth time in school history. They share first place with No. 8 Penn State.
The game started off going back-and-forth as Aerial Powers scored the first points of the game hitting a jumper from the wing. MSU led with 11:29 to go in the first half, but the score was close, 14-12.
The Spartans began to pull away with 8:43 to go, leading 21-12. The Hoosiers cut the Spartan lead to six with 6:54 on the clock after MSU committed a couple of offensive fouls.
However, MSU maintained the lead and was up 29-21 with three minutes to go in the half. In the final minute of the first half, the Breslin Center’s energy and Spartans’ momentum put them up 38-26 going into halftime.
Tori Jankoska had nine points and five rebounds and Powers had 12 points at the end of the first half.
MSU was able to keep Indiana’s leading scorer guard Larryn Brooks, who was averaging 16.3 points per game, to five points in the first half. She was scoreless in the second half and turned the ball over five times.
Powers came out of halftime and continued to dominate. She hit a jumper, a three-pointer and a fast break lay-up. She scored seven points in three in and a half minutes.
With 15:35 to go, Klarissa Bell hit a shot from downtown, putting MSU up 52-30. The Hoosiers answered with a three-pointer from Karlee McBride, then Jankoska answered Indiana’s three with her own shot from behind the arc. MSU had a 22-point lead.
Michigan State dominated the final half never losing the lead. Branndais Agee’s dad and others in the crowd chanted, “Big Ten champs” with four minutes to go in the last game of MSU’s regular season.
Annalise Pickrel sealed the deal with three quick field goals with 2:18 left to go in the game. MSU led 76-50 as Pickrel checked out of the game.
This was the co-captains’, Annalise Pickrel and Klarissa Bell’s, final regular season game as Spartans. With just over two minutes left, Pickrel checked in, kissed the court and then checked back out. Bell checked out as well.
The final score was 76-56 as the Spartans received their championship t-shirts and hats. Powers led the team with 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Jankoska followed with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Powers said she was trying to score more than usual early in the game.
“I felt like I needed to because I know this team won’t let down and it’s so much on the line for us and I wanted to make my presence known,” Powers said.
Head coach Suzy Merchant said she doesn’t think that there has been a more impactful freshman out there that has helped a team win a championship than Aerial Powers.
“She has points, rebounds, steals and assists. She’s a complete player and she does it in multiple positions for us, “Merchant said. “I’d vote for her for Freshman of the Year and I hope everybody else does.”
Family, friends, the team and coaches honored the seniors. Merchant said Pickrel was the epitome of what a Spartan is and referred to Bell as “the local hometown hero.”
Pickrel had 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks on her senior night. She said the team came together with patience. The freshmen had to give up a little bit and the upperclassmen had to put in more.
“A lot of it had to do with learning for the younger girls and patience for the older girls,” Pickrel said. “If we’re gonna be a good team like we can be, we all have to give up a little and put in a little more.”
Bell ended her regular season career with a balanced stat line. She had six points, three rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal. She said she never thought she would be a point guard on a Big Ten Championship team.
“I was not planning that coming in,” Bell said. “My freshman year, I’m not a point guard what-so-ever. But things that happened made me into a point guard and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Merchant said she is not a big predictor and cannot really say how far the team can go.
“We have to do things right, so I never guarantee or look too far ahead, especially in the women’s game,” Merchant said. “I think we’re a really talented team that can make some noise, but some of it is going to depend on where we go and what our matchup is.”
The Spartans (21-8, 13-3) won the No. 2 spot in the 2014 Big Ten Tournament. They will face the winner of Michigan and Indiana on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Sierra Williams is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Sierra Williams/Impact Sports