Spartans escape Penn State despite ugly fourth quarter

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Spartans escape Penn State despite ugly fourth quarter

Nia Clouden/MSU Athletic Communications

Nia Clouden/MSU Athletic Communications

Nia Clouden/MSU Athletic Communications

Nia Clouden/MSU Athletic Communications

Ian Drummond, General Assignment Reporter

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EAST LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan State women’s basketball team faced Penn State Wednesday night in its home finale, a game postponed nearly a month due to inclement weather. The Spartans (18-9, 8-8 Big Ten) came in needing a win to secure a bye in next week’s Big Ten tournament, and they got it, defeating the Nittany Lions 57-48.

Both teams were missing key pieces: the Spartans played without guard Mardrekia Cook, while Penn State played without leading scorer Teniya Page.

The Spartan defense came to play early, holding the Nittany Lions to 13 percent shooting in the first quarter. Over the entire half they were held to 29 percent, including 1-of-11 from deep. The Nittany Lions managed to stay in the game in the first half thanks to tenacious rebounding, picking up eight offensive boards to the Spartans’ two.

MSU also had bad rim luck, with even layups clanging off the metal. By halftime, the Spartans had a 32-24 lead, but no Spartan had reached double-digit scoring, with Shay Colley leading the way with eight points.

“We went into tonight knowing this was going to be a long, dragged-out game,” sophomore forward Sidney Cooks said.

A big momentum burst came from junior Taryn McCutcheon, who hit a 3-pointer with five minutes to go in the first half to put the Spartans up 21-16. She hit another one to cap off a 6-0 run just before halftime that gave her team a seven-point lead. She was 2-of-3 from behind the arc, the only two threes of the half for MSU.

The offense finally found its rhythm in the middle of the third quarter, ripping off an 18-2 run that lasted over six minutes while the Nittany Lions found themselves in another long scoring drought, going over five minutes without a field goal. The sustained pressure from the offense and defense gave the Spartans a 20-point lead late in the third, the game looked all but over.

“It’s about focus, it’s mainly a focus thing.”  Nia Clouden said.

Things got interesting as the Spartans began to unravel in the fourth quarter. The Spartans hit their own long shooting drought of nine minutes, during which they turned the ball over eight times and missed seven straight shots until Clouden drained a long jumper with 47 seconds remaining. Despite this, the defense held enough to keep the Nittany Lions at bay. The lead never got down to less than nine points, the final margin.

“Today we let them come back,” said Clouden.

After the game, coach Suzy Merchant noted that the team seemed tired. “We need to stay consistent… especially from a defensive standpoint,” she said, referring to Penn State’s late surge.

The Spartans were led by Clouden’s 14 points, while Cooks added 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks off the bench.

The Spartans end the regular season at Minnesota Sunday at 3 p.m.