Two battle-tested teams meet in East Lansing, with the advantage going to MSU

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Shay Colley/Photo: Joe Dandron

The Spartans came into Sunday afternoon’s matchup with six games against AP Top 25 teams, and a 4-2 record to show from that. The Boilermakers did the Spartans one better with seven games against ranked opponents, with MSU being their eighth. After MSU pulled out the 74-66 win, Purdue is now 3-5 against ranked teams.

These two teams battled throughout. Purdue found themselves being down by 15 in the second quarter, and eventually crawled back to tie the game a couple of times. In the third quarter, Purdue out-rebounded MSU 9-2 on the offensive glass, but the Spartans never let them take the lead, holding it and squeezing out a game that was tied with under a minute left. Coach Merchant was confident in her group of five.

“I thought down the stretch, the kids that were in there, offense or defenses, and at the end of the game I thought they were the right kids, they had the most confidence are were playing together the best,” Merchant said. “Plus they were pressing, so those three kids I start are point guards and if you can’t break a press with three point guards, there’s a problem. So their press didn’t really bother us.”

All five of the starters scored in double figures for MSU. Shay Colley and Sidney Cooks led the way for the Spartans with 20 points apiece. It is Cook’s third game in a row in the starting lineup and she sees herself as more than just someone who can go out and dominate offensively every night.

“I definitely see myself as a leader offensively for sure, and being a better communicator,” Cooks said. “And just being a good soul out on the court. When we need a laugh I’m trying to be there. You know someone makes a turnover or coach is getting on us, I want them to be able to look at me and be able to laugh at anything.”

Going forward, it seems like Cooks and Colley will look to lead the offense in as many ways as possible. While Cooks wants to be the good soul out on the court, Colley brings an intense demeanor with her intensity and high basketball I.Q. also showing against Purdue.

“When the game comes down to that you have to be able to know what’s going on,” Colley said. “And having the confidence and being aware.”

Colley, being a point guard, also loves to get out on the break and to push the ball. MSU has been great when running in transition this season which has been part of its success since the start of the year. Against Purdue, the Spartans scored 20 of their points on the fast break.

“I really do like that fast break, I would say it’s my bread and butter,” Colley said. “But sometimes I’m too fast and I need to slow down and read the defense and take my time, but I still love getting out in transition.”

The other part of the frontcourt for Michigan State, Jenna Allen, did not have had her best offensive game against the Boilermakers. What is becoming a more important role for her is to shut down the opponent’s best frontcourt player. Ae’Rianna Harris exploded in the first quarter with 10 points, and then had 10 points in the final three quarters. Much of that was to Allen’s credit.

“Defensively I thought she did a good job on 32,” Merchant said on Allen.

Michigan State was able to pull off this win in the fourth quarter because they were playing at home. If they were playing away from the Breslin Center, it is hard to think that they would have come out with a win. The Spartans remain undefeated at home, as they now are 12-0. The crowd at the Breslin Center Sunday was just under 7,500. The crowd was especially involved because it was Michigan State’s annual Pink Out game. While Purdue was on offense, the crowd would get very loud. It was their own version of the sixth man.

“It means a lot because this is our home, so we don’t want anyone to come here and beat us,” Cooks said. “Every time that we come out on the court we’re thinking about that. We’re looking at that Spartan head and all our fans that come out and we want to show them that we can hold it down when it comes down to playing at home.”

This game also had important Big Ten conference implications for both teams. After Sunday’s game, MSU and Northwestern are now tied at 6-4. This is significant for MSU because it needs to keep pace with the top half of the pack in the Big Ten. These two teams are one game ahead of Purdue now and tied for fourth in the conference. A loss for Michigan State would have left them at 5-5, making them tied for sixth, but they avoided that with a win.

The Spartans head on the road for their next game, an important conference test against No. 13 Iowa on Thursday. The top two offenses in the Big Ten will clash in Iowa City for an AP Top 25 matchup. Michigan State could climb the ladder and tie Iowa at 7-4 in the conference with a win. It will be another important game for Jenna Allen to try and stop Iowa’s Megan Gustafson, who is averaging over 26.6 points per game. MSU beat Iowa at home at the end of December.