No. 21 Spartans Win Physical Battle with Scarlet Knights

EAST LANSING, MI – The Breslin Student Events Center was host to the second of two Big Ten games in the homestand for the Michigan State women’s basketball team.

Tuesday night was only the third time MSU and Rutgers have faced in Big Ten play – both teams with one win. The last time the two teams faced off on February 22, 2015, the result was a 60-50 MSU win against the then-No. 19 Scarlet Knights.

Michigan State’s offense struggled to start once again and found themselves down three points at halftime, only three days after being down 13 at the half to Iowa. Much like that game, the offense pulled away in the fourth quarter, and the Spartans defeated Rutgers 59-48.

“As usual with Rutgers, it was a heavyweight fight to the last round – to the last man standing,“ MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “I didn’t think we handled their physicality very well. Certainly in the first half we were out-muscled.”

MSU made the first two shots of the game to go up 5-0, but struggled for the rest of the first quarter as Rutgers went on a 9-0 run to end the first ten minutes, taking a 19-13 lead going into the second quarter.

The second quarter was a defensive showcase for MSU. The Spartan defense allowed nine points on four of 12 field goals to the Rutgers offense, compared to 19 points on eight of 17 shots in the first quarter.

Michigan State was plagued by turnovers in the first half, trailing Rutgers 10-7 in that category. After going 5 for 9 at the free throw line, MSU seemed fortunate to only be down three at the half, 28-25.

“First half, we didn’t do a very good job,” junior guard Tori Jankoska said. “We weren’t setting screens or using them – just kind of being loose with the ball.”

As the second half started, the momentum began to swing in Michigan State’s favor. Jankoska was able to complete an and-1 to begin the half, tying the contest at 28.

Behind a perfect free throw percentage (9 for 9) in the third quarter, MSU was able to end the third quarter tied at 40.

With the score even and a big play needed for either team, who better to step up than Preseason All-American Aerial Powers?

Powers raced towards the sideline to save a ball from going out of bounds, flying into the players’ tunnel, somehow corralling the ball and completing a no-look pass to Tori Jankoska – who got fouled almost immediately. Powers created what was at least a two point swing in the game at a crucial moment.

Along with the hustle play, Powers scored 10 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter alone. The redshirt junior also secured her sixth double-double of the season, grabbing 12 rebounds.

“We knew Rutgers was a very tough and aggressive team,” Powers said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we still won.”

MSU’s stout defense reappeared in the fourth quarter, allowing an impressive field goal percentage of 14.3 percent. Rutgers made two shots out of 14 attempts and totaled eight points in the final quarter.

“We really just locked in mentally,” Jankoska said. “We decided that we were going to get some stops on defense – usually stops on defense lead to our offense.”

That defense, combined with Powers leading the offense, resulted in the Spartans winning their fifth Big Ten game.

Michigan State’s next game is Saturday, January 23, 2016 away versus Maryland. The No. 21 Spartans (14-4 overall, 5-2 conference, 3rd in the B1G) play the No. 5 Terrapins (16-2, 5-1, Tied 1st in the B1G) at 2 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.