EAST LANSING – Expectations must be tempered when a freshman athlete receives their first meaningful playing time experience.
After all, it is a far cry from playing in front of your friends and family to being exposed to the bright lights of college basketball.
No longer is your family there to cheer you on. No longer can you be the most athletic on the floor people and neglect technique.
And no longer can you carry an entire team on your back. For many college freshmen, this rapid change of scenery can take some getting used to. There are also some collegiate youngsters who already come to school with wisdom well beyond their years.
Moira “Mo” Joiner falls into the latter part of this dubious distinction. Especially considering the fact that she has already missed some practice time, due to an offseason concussion injury.
She was an absolute force in her 27 minutes of action, as she helped the No. 17-ranked Spartans get off to a strong start on the season by crushing the visiting Ferris State Bulldogs by a final score of 85-45.
“I thought I would be more nervous than I was, but once I got out there,” said Joiner. “I was happy I was back playing, because I haven’t played in a long time. Being with my teammates was great.”
In her first real collegiate experience and test with having thousands of complete strangers cheer her on, Joiner passed her first test with flying colors.
The four-star recruit out of Heritage High in Saginaw showed why she was so highly sought after by the Green and White with her phenomenal defensive awareness, as well as her commanding presence on the court.
Joiner had three steals in her first collegiate game.
Not only was Joiner able to diagnose every screen and offensive set that Ferris State threw at her, but she also displayed her magnificent offensive repertoire. With eleven points in 27 minutes. Few have seen freshman who are able to come onto the scene and perform so admirable in their first go around.
Joiner herself credited scouting, but also a strong defensive emphasis to her three steals.
“That was one of our goals for the game,” said Joiner. “Just being tough with our defense and being up on players. I was just in the passing lanes at the right time.’’
Kudos to Joiner for taking the humble rout, but it was no accident that the visiting Ferris State Bulldogs shot only 25 percent from the court on the night.
It was no accident that FSU scored 15 combined points in the second and third quarters. And it is no accident that MSU registered 17 steals on the night.
Five different players for the Spartans registered multiple steals.
Say what you want about the possible competition disparity between these two programs, but accumulating 17 steals against anyone is damn impressive.
The fact that a freshman was second in steals registered is even more impressive when you take into account that she is sharing the floor with other defensive stalwarts, such as Taryn McCutcheon, who was 3rd in the Big Ten last year in steals and Nia Clouden.
Defensive intensity has been a key tenant of this Michigan State program under Suzy Merchant for quite some time now.
Going into her 13th year as the captain of a formidable program, the demand for defensive excellence continues to grow ever higher with every passing practice.
When something is demanded of you, some will wilt under the pressure and others will rise to the occasion and step up.
Joiner appears to have taken this message of defensive execution and communication to heart.
“We’ve been really working on denying in our practices,” said Joiner.
Coming into the season, the focus was and continues to be on the maturation and high expectations for a team that is returning three out of its top four scorers.
With an all conference backbourt of Taryn, Shay Colley and Clouden, the Spartans were rewarded with a No. 17 ranking in the first installment of the 2019 AP poll rankings. Less mentioned was how the incoming class of talented high school stars, such as Joiner and fellow four star Alyza Winstion could contribute to this team’s overall success.
It was expected that even though these young backcourt studs had all the potential in the world, they wouldn’t receive huge minutes, because of who lay in front of them.
In Suzy Merchants words, Joiner is a Jack-of-alltrades, master of none, sort of player. In other words, she can do several things adequately, but nothing at an otherworldly elite level.
Maybe she changed her coach’s mind today. Fans know that she sure left an impression on me with her outstanding Basketball IQ and her ability to diagnose screens, pick and pops and dribble drives.
It is downright scary to think that this talented Saginaw native is only a freshman.
She played more like a senior than perhaps any freshman has in a very long time for this MSU program.
You can follow Nathan Stearns at @NathanStearns11 and contact him at [email protected]