Spartans run away from rival Michigan

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — In a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal matchup of rivals, No. 6 seed Michigan State (21-10 overall, 9-7 B1G) was powered by a career-high 18 points from Victoria Gaines to pull away from No. 3 seed Michigan (22-9 overall, 11-5 B1G), winning by a final score of 74-64 on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“I thought it was a well-fought game,” Spartan coach Suzy Merchant said. “I really liked how our team responded to certain things that Michigan was trying to do early with matchups, especially for Coco (Gaines).”

With the win, the Spartans advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament to take on No. 2 seed Maryland. MSU also improved to 6-0 all-time against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament.

MSU senior guard Tori Jankoska wasn’t her usual self, scoring 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field. However, she was able to contribute in other ways, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists.

Despite Jankoska’s off day, the Spartans got help from Jenna Allen and Gaines, who combined to score 30 points and grab six rebounds. Their performances came as a surprise, as they combined to average 11.5 points and 7.4 rebounds during the regular season.

“I just used my height and size as an advantage, just being aggressive on offense, driving the ball and it just clicked for me,” Gaines said.

The Spartans were very aggressive attacking the basket and drawing fouls, as they finished the game 17-of-21 from the free-throw line. Michigan, however, struggled to get to the line, as they shot just 10 free throws on the night.

The Spartan offense finished the game shooting 41 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“They did a good job,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “And we had watched this leading up, they back screened Tori coming through the middle. And if you step over to help, they pop Allen, and shes a 6’4” kid who hit a bunch of jumpers for them today.”

Not only was the Spartan offense clicking on all cylinders, but their defense was just as good, holding the Wolverines to 36 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from beyond the arc.

Michigan’s big three of Katelynn Flaherty, Hallie Thome and Kysre Gondrezick scored 57 points, but the trio was just 24-of-59 from the field and 6-of-16 from beyond the arc.

“I think we got great looks,” Flaherty said. “We missed shots. Sometimes it just happens. Moving forward, we definitely need to find a way to keep scoring when that does happen. But I think we got great looks and we just couldn’t knock them down today.”

The Spartans will have to play well defensively again on Saturday night against Maryland, as Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough come into the game averaging a combined 38 points and 14.6 rebounds per game.

MSU’s semifinal game against Maryland is set to tip off at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network. The Terrapins defeated the Spartans 89-72 on February 12. MSU is currently 0-9 all-time against Maryland.

“I think they’re a well-oiled machine. They’re deep. Athletic, gotta handle their pressure,” Merchant said. “If you want to beat them, you’ve got to be really strong with the ball. You’ve got to be able to make reads. They’re athletic, handle multiple defenses. They don’t foul you, so you’ve got to be able to score over some size and athleticism.”

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