Markoch: Spartans could have something special brewing for second year in a row in Indy


MSU forward Matilda Ekh attempts a 3-pointer in the Spartans’ 61-55 loss to No. 17 Ohio State on Feb. 27, 2022/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Michael Markoch, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Michigan State s made the trip to Gainsbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, to begin what they hoped would be a long visit during the Big Ten Tournament against Purdue on Thursday. MSU came in as the No. 8 seed and the Boilermakers were the No. 9 seed. And in what was a back-and-forth affair throughout most of the game, the Spartans prevailed late for a 73-69 victory.

With the win, the Spartans improved to 15-14 on the season and avenged a 69-59 home loss at the hands of the Boilermakers on Jan. 9.

In tournament play, all it takes is a little bit of momentum to carry a team a long way, and if the Spartans can shoot the ball as they did on Thursday, they might just make a run similar to the 2021 Big Ten Tournament. They knocked off Penn State and No. 9 Indiana before falling to Iowa in the semifinals 87-72. 

MSU shot 41% (25-for-61) from the floor and dominated down low with 34 points in the paint compared to Purdue’s 16. The Spartans also outrebounded the Boilermakers by two and had 10 more points off turnovers. 

MSU forward Taiyier Parks goes up for a contested basket attempt during the Spartans’ 74-71 home win over Minnesota on Jan. 23, 2022/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

The difference, however, was at the free throw line. The Spartans went to the line 26 times, knocking down 19 of those attempts. Senior guard Nia Clouden went 10-for-11 from the stripe herself and was once again the engine that helped the Spartans’ offense move.

Clouden is one of those exceptional players that can carry a team on her back in tournament play. Against most teams the Spartans will play in Indianapolis, Clouden is going to be the best player on the floor. 

Simply put, if the Spartans want to keep winning these games, they will need to continue to lean on the senior and unanimous All-Big Ten First Team player. 

Clouden had 23 points against the Boilermakers, despite picking up three personal fouls halfway through the second quarter and being on the bench for the final five minutes of the period. 

Freshman forward Matilda Ekh finally broke out of her two-game long scoring slump against Purdue, scoring 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting. Ekh has been sensational this season when the Spartans use her as the primary scoring option, usually when Clouden is on the bench. 

With coach Suzy Merchant wanting to give Clouden more rest during games, Ekh’s resurgence can only be viewed as a positive as the tournament continues for the Spartans, especially considering the fact she was 1-for-14 from the floor against Ohio State on Feb. 27.

MSU forward Matilda Ekh attempts a 3-pointer in the Spartans’ 61-55 loss to No. 17 Ohio State on Feb. 27, 2022/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

With the win, MSU will play the No. 1 overall seed Ohio State on Friday morning with a chance to advance to the semi-finals for the second consecutive year.  On paper, the Spartans match up better with the Buckeyes than any other team they could possibly see in the next game. 

MSU doesn’t have to face the Iowa Hawkeyes with Caitlyn Clark, the Big Ten Player of the year who is on quite an offensive tear, Michigan, a team that just wore them down in Ann Arbor last week or Maryland. 

Still, areas of concern are apparent for the Spartans.. They are going to have to clean up their fouling habits and turnover issues as their tournament run continues. MSU racked up 19 personal fouls throughout the game and turned the ball over 14 times. Against high-quality opponents, those numbers will cost them dearly. Their next opponent, Ohio State, forced an average of 19 turnovers a game in the regular season.

MSU has already played Ohio State twice this season with both games being won by the Buckeyes by a combined 12 points. Considering the two teams just played each other on Sunday afternoon, the Spartans have to be more than comfortable in their preparation with only a 24-hour turnaround. 

If the Spartans are going to defeat the Buckeyes, they are going to have to have another stellar showing on the glass and find a way to slow down the Buckeyes’ two-headed backcourt combination of Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell, both of whom are averaging over 19 points per game on the season. On Sunday afternoon, the Spartans outrebounded OSU 60-38 and ripped down 24 offensive boards.

Tip-off for Friday’s contest is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.