Michigan State runs out of time in 76-71 loss to No. 24 Notre Dame


MSU forward Moira Joiner/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Michael Markoch, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSINGThe Michigan State Spartans faced their biggest challenge of the season so far when the No. 24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish visited the Breslin Center on Thursday as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Spartans struggled mightily on offense throughout the night, which resulted in a 76-71 defeat.

The Spartans started the game as they have started most games this season with a great first quarter. This was due mostly to some poor Irish shooting, but also four forced turnovers by the Spartans in the first five minutes. A couple of threes by Nia Clouden and Matilda Ekh got the Spartans rolling offensively and off to a quick 12-8 lead.

The Spartans were 4-for-9 in the first quarter from behind the arc and although those are solid numbers, the Irish matched it going 3-for-6 from three-point range as well. The Spartans had the lead up to as much as five in the first quarter but only carried a 23-21 lead into the second.

Once again, the second quarter was not nearly as clean as the first for the Spartans. The Irish went on a 9-0 run in the middle of the quarter to take a 34-27 lead while shooting 59% from the floor. Meanwhile, the Spartans couldn’t seem to find the bottom of the net, shooting only 19%.

MSU guard Deedee Hagemann drives to the basket during the Spartans’ 85-75 win over Marshall on Nov. 28, 2021/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Irish forward Natajia Marshall was particularly good in the second quarter, scoring six points and corralling two rebounds. Freshman guard Sonia Citron was perfect in the first half as well, going 3-for-3 from the floor and scoring eight points for the Irish.

Despite some uneven play from the Spartans, they relied on their defense which has been stifling opponents all year and were able to turn the Irish over 11 times and make some late baskets to close the half. The Spartans’ defense cut the Notre Dame lead to just two at the half, 36-34.

Alyza Winston bounced back from a frustrating game on Sunday against Marshall with nine first-half points for the Spartans, Clouden added nine of her own to help cut into the Irish lead.

The third quarter proved to be the pivotal one and is when things started to get away from the Spartans. They started the quarter 0-for-5 from the floor as the Irish pushed their lead to 10 with 6:27 remaining. Irish senior point guard, Dara Mabrey, hit a tough contested 3-pointer that sucked the life out of MSU.

The Spartans were facing a size disadvantage all night long. The Irish’s two starting forwards attracted a lot of attention for the Spartans’ defense and disrupted the offense as well. Graduate transfer forward Maya Dodson tallied six blocks for the Irish.

“We needed to get a little bit more out of our post play,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “We kind of knew going into this game that Dodson is one of the best shot blockers in the country. Not sure we would get a whole lot of back-to-the-basket opportunities.”

After a quick Spartans’ timeout following a double-digit deficit, Michigan State played inspired, converting on four consecutive field goals at one point resulting in a 12-4 run that got them back within two points with 3:21 left in the third. But just like on Sunday against Marshall, the Spartans could not find a way to get a crucial stop or basket to pull in front.

“Notre Dame is a great team and they’re always tough every time we play them,” junior guard Moira Joiner said. “Obviously they are bigger than us so it was a battle and I liked that we were tougher than we have been in the past this season and I like that we really battled back.”

The Irish ended the third quarter clinging to a 55-50 lead. Citron continued her tremendous night shooting for the Irish, adding another eight points to her total to give her a team-high 16 points through 30 minutes of play.

The Irish continued to stave off the Spartans throughout the fourth, countering MSUruns with runs of their own. They even extended their lead in the fourth to as high as 10 points with just over five minutes to play, and the Spartans couldn’t recover, falling in the Breslin Center for the first time all year.

One of the main keys going into this game was finding a way to turn the Irish over, and the Spartans were able to do that successfully, forcing 15 Irish turnovers. However, their impressive defensive performance was not coupled with a good offensive performance as the Spartans finished the game shooting a measly 36% from the floor.

MSU guard Alyza Winston dribbles the ball against Detroit Mercy/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

The Irish snagged 15 offensive rebounds in the game and the Spartans only had 23 total defensive rebounds, which coach Merchant thought was a main contributor to the loss.

“I liked our fight, I thought with four players in double figures, we shared the ball, we did some things, we took care of it,” Merchant said. “There were some untimely offensive rebounds for them, that just kind of led to, they had 16 second-chance points … I kind of felt like if we could’ve secured those it would have been a little bit different.”

Citron led all scorers with 29 points on 9-for-12 shooting (3-for-4 from three), Olivia Miles added 11 points of her own and three other Irish players chipped in eight points as well. Clouden led the Spartans with 20 points and Ekh and Joiner weren’t far behind with 17 and 14, respectively.

Michigan State is now 6-3 on the season and will begin its difficult conference schedule next week when it heads to Iowa City to take on the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes on Sunday afternoon.