Spartans pull away late to dispatch Northwestern in Big Ten tourney

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Spartans pull away late to dispatch Northwestern in Big Ten tourney

Shay Colley/Photo: Joe Dandron

Shay Colley/Photo: Joe Dandron

Shay Colley/Photo: Joe Dandron

Shay Colley/Photo: Joe Dandron

Ian Drummond, General Assisgnment Reporter

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Michigan State women’s basketball team opened Big Ten Tournament play in Indianapolis Thursday afternoon against Northwestern. The teams came in evenly matched as the ninth and eighth seeds in the tournament, respectively. Despite the parity, the game was a blowout as the Spartans took the game 68-52. Shay Colley led the Spartans with 14 points and 7 rebounds.

The early game was dominated by the deep ball, as both teams found themselves frustrated in the paint. The Spartans made only two of their first five two-pointers but made four of their first five 3-pointers, including a spectacular long bomb from junior Taryn McCutcheon that tied the game at 8. Both teams combined to go 8-13 from behind the arc in a fast-paced opening quarter.

The second quarter was more evenly matched as both teams found space down low. McCutcheon continued to burn the Wildcats from deep, adding another three and drawing a foul to turn it into a four-point play. The Spartans took a 39-32 lead into halftime. Both teams shot over 50 percent from the floor, but the Spartans outrebounded the Wildcats 17-14. McCutcheon led all scorers with 10 points. Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf both scored nine for the Wildcats.

The Spartan bench was productive in the first half as Sidney Cooks scored five points while Nia Hollie and Mardrekia Cook added two each. Cook appeared to reaggravate a lingering foot issue in the middle of the second quarter but later returned.

“I think we can go nine, ten deep…the bench will continue to help us as we move forward,” said Merchant.

The second half opened with an 8-0 Northwestern run that gave the Wildcats a 40-39 lead midway through the third quarter. The Spartan offense sputtered as shots clanked off the rim, and it looked like the Wildcats were finding their momentum and the Spartans were once again faltering away from the Breslin. Sensing the shift in the game, Merchant called timeout.

“They scored the ball and we had some easy looks we couldn’t finish on,” Merchant said.

The Spartans immediately answered as Shay Colley hit a three-pointer to take the lead back. That put the wind back into the Spartan offense as they took command, with Colley, Allen, and Nia Clouden scoring quick buckets. Clouden added a layup with two seconds left in the third quarter to give the Spartans a 55-44 lead and great positioning going into the final quarter.

“I thought that when we came out of that timeout we really moved the ball forward and we got some stops,” Merchant added.

Michigan State worked quickly to ice the game in the fourth. Cook snatched a pass out of midair on Northwestern’s first possession and took it the distance for an easy layup and there was no more worrying about the outcome. Northwestern was held scoreless for the first 5:51 of the quarter as the Spartans built an insurmountable lead and ran out the clock.

The Spartans advance to face Maryland tomorrow at noon. Although the Terrapins are the top-seeded team in the tournament, the Spartans like their chances.

“We’re looking forward to the battle tomorrow,” said Merchant.

“I feel like everyone’s confidence is up,” added center Jenna Allen. “We’re just going to go play, and whatever happens happens.”