The Spartan women’s basketball team celebrated Senior Day at the Breslin Center Sunday afternoon with a game against rival Michigan. That’s always a big game, but was most important for one player: the team’s lone senior, starting center Jenna Allen.
Playing in her second-to-last home game, she was a force, with a stellar first-half effort that propelled the Spartans to a 74-64 win against their in-state foe. The win completed a season sweep of Michigan after MSU’s 77-73 win in Ann Arbor last month.
Allen recently became the 27th player to score 1,000 career points for the Spartans, and she started out hot on Sunday. She recorded MSU’s first five points, as well as its first rebound, also getting involved in forcing Michigan’s first turnover. By the end of the first quarter, she already had 10 points. She added five more in the second, and her 15 first-half points led all scorers. She finished with 18 points, her 18th game this season with double-digit scoring. She also recorded a surprising five steals and seven rebounds.
The performance adds to a stellar senior season for Allen, who picked up two Big Ten Player of the Week honors this year as well as two National Player of the Week awards. She posted improved numbers in nearly every statistical category and was important for MSU’s survival on the edge of the AP Top 25 this year.
But Allen didn’t want herself to get caught up in the moment.
“I wasn’t even really thinking about Senior Night,” she said. “I was trying to focus on being the best I can be and helping the team win.”
It’s a natural response from Allen, who doesn’t project as the most important person in the room, even when she is. After the game, she received a tribute on the scoreboard and a speech from coach Suzy Merchant. One thing Merchant highlighted in her speech was Allen’s humility.
“With her, it’s never been about Jenna,” Merchant said.
Allen wasn’t always a star. Merchant mentioned that in her first three years, she was primarily a role player. She played behind more experienced forwards and centers, people with something to teach and something to motivate her with. Some players would think about transferring, or complain about having to come off the bench deep into their college career.
But this was not Allen.
“I came in and played behind great players, but I just stuck to the process. I trusted the process.” she said.
Eventually, she got to become the linchpin of her own Spartan team, a team that notched several huge upsets and dominated on the home court. She became the player she always wanted to be, but understood that it would take patience and hard work.
And at the end of the day, she got to experience one of the great moments in any Spartan basketball player’s career: getting to kiss the Spartan head at half court. When she was subbed out of the game with 15 seconds left for sophomore Sidney Cooks, she knew what was happening.
Asked about the moment after the game, she said, “Every kid comes into this program and always dreams about the day where they can kiss the Spartan head. It was very surreal for me, but it was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
But what said the most about Allen was when she was asked what Spartan basketball meant to her.
One word: “Everything.”