The Michigan State Spartans probably wish they could play every game at the Breslin Center after dropping three straight Big Ten road games to Northwestern, Indiana and Ohio State. The No. 17 Spartans used a big 20-4 run to start the ball game and get out front against No. 9 Maryland in a 77-60 upset win.
“If we just play like that every game or feel good about our game,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. “Sometimes we go on the road and just don’t bring that energy. It’s something we’ve been working on and talking about.”
But as the second half opened, the Spartans looked ready to finish the job as freshman Nia Clouden slashed to the basket for an and-one layup to open the third quarter in what was a complete game against one of the most complete teams in the nation.
The Terrapins have lost only seven (yes seven) conference games since joining the Big Ten in the 2014-15 season, so you could say that losses don’t come very often for a Maryland team that is now an impressive 15-2 on the year.
“That’s not a hard question to answer,” Merchant said when asked if she valued wins over Maryland. “I think [Frese] does a really good job running her program.”
Sidney Cooks, who just recently had 21 points off the bench against Minnesota, had seven big points early in this one with five coming in the final two minutes of the first half, giving the Spartans a three-point lead heading into the break.
“I feel bad for Sid, because I don’t think she’s gotten there yet bless her heart,” Merchant said. “I don’t think she’s showing everything she can.”
Cooks had 11 points off the bench as she has started to morph into the player the Spartans recruited her to be.
The early 16-point lead was part of a 20-4 run that saw Maryland go scoreless for more than four minutes in the first quarter. That was inevitably the most important part of the game as the Spartans never looked back on their way to the upset.
But like most successful teams, Maryland handled the adversity and nearly overcame the lead in the first half.
The Terrapins rebounded nicely from the deficit in more ways than one as they out-rebounded MSU 21-12 in the first half, with eight offensive boards. This helped propel Maryland back into contention early in the game, but a 37-34 deficit would face them at halftime in East Lansing.
The early deficit and home success of the Spartans was too much to overcome for the Terrapins as they struggled to find a rhythm offensively. Star freshman Taylor Mikesell and Shakira Austin combined for a total of 12 points.
“I think we just took away their tendencies,” Spartans’ center Jenna Allen said. “You know Mikesell, she’s a great shooter and I thought Taryn [McCutcheon] did really well chasing her off the line tonight.”
The Spartans remain unblemished at home with the victory and move to 13-4 overall, including a 3-3 record in the Big Ten. Maryland suffered its second loss of the season and now drops to 4-2 in conference play.
MSU draws Rutgers, who is 6-0 in conference to lead the Big Ten, this coming Saturday on the road.