Stearns: Spartan focus and depth will carry them far


Nathan Stearns, Women's basketball beat reporter

EAST LANSING —  Certain styles of play travel to unique environments better than others. To live and die by the three is a recipe for upset and heartbreak, while relying on strong defense oftentimes will keep a team in a game, regardless if shots are falling or not. 

Michigan State women’s basketball enjoyed the best of both worlds on Friday night, as beat down on the Detroit Mercy Titanson both ends of the floor, en route to a 110-52 victory. 

The freshman contingent of Julia Ayrault, Alyza Winston, Moira Joiner and Taiyier Parks contributed 50 points to the overall 110 point effort.

After yet another strong performance, Winston mentioned how the adjustment to the collegiate level hasn’t been easy, but necessary to ensure that MSU can succeed throughout the season.

“College basketball is definitely an adjustment, but we haven’t met anyone who is a really good Division One basketball team,” said Winston. “I definitely feel like I have progressed through the three games  and playing the amount of time that I did. I am really anxious to see what we will be able to do against really good teams.”

If Friday’s game against Mercy is any indication, the Spartans will be a tough out regardless of opponent, due to the fact that nothing comes easy on the offense against the Spartans. 

The Titans found this out the hard way, as they committed 18 first half turnovers. 

A physical style of play that has become synonymous with MSU basketball made life for Mercy utterly miserable. Yes, the Titans only won four games last year, and yes MSU was the clear and concise favorite going into this contest. 

But regardless, forcing 18 turnovers in one half against anyone is impressive. This feat becomes even more impressive when every player on scholarship for MSU received playing time in the first.

Perhaps equally as impressive is the fact that Winston and Joyner made mincemeat of the UD-Mercy 2-3 zone that was being deployed. Every defensive scheme that Titan coach Bernard Scott threw at MSU was not successful in the least. 

“I was glad they played a zone,” said Merchant. “We are going to get zoned, so to be able to pass the ball and show that we can improve and shoot the ball inside. I was glad we faced a zone for forty minutes.”

Eastern Michigan also found it hard to muster anything offensively against the Spartans. After all, how can you compete against a team who can go eleven deep and play winning basketball? 

As the season continues to wear on, the now big rotation grow smaller  but each and every player who received meaningful game minutes showed the ability to play winning basketball. 

The unselfish nature of this team makes them a dangerous dark horse team that could very well take the Big Ten by surprise. Especially for a team that one of the top in the nation last year in most major assist categories. 

This is a team that won over 20 games last season, returns three out of the four leading scorers from last season and loaded up with the No. 7-ranked overall recruiting class in the land. 

25 wins and a Sweet 16 berth may not be out of the realm of possibility for this potential laden squad. 

“It starts with just getting reps. You want to get out their and feel comfortable. That is what November is to challenge yourself,” said Merchant.Obviously you want to win every game,but we certainly want to give everyone an opportunity to see what they can do.”

Eleven of the fourteen Spartans registered at least one bucket in the game. 

Very rarely in any basketball game does a team have eleven different players who register buckets. Credit must be given to Suzy Merchant who has injected the ideals of unselfish play, crisp ball rotation and stingy defense into the DNA of this program.  

Expectations of excellence surround the core players of the program, namely Nia Clouden and Taryn McCutcheon, but perhaps more attention needs to be paid to star freshman backcourt mates, Moira Joiner and Alyza Winston. 

The lateral quickness, ability to recognize and diagnose ball screens and high basketball IQ that each of these underclassmen will make them a problem opponents for years to come. 

The freshmen Joiner brought the house down with her 11 point outburst against Ferris State and Winston scored 14 points against Eastern Michigan. Four Star center recruit Parks has also looked the part of a well rounded collegiate prospect, with her fifteen points and six rebound game against UD-Mercy. 

Ayrault, who has been swept under the rug a bit as a freshman, because of the star studded triumvirate of Winston, Parks and Joiner, also had a stellar performance with nine points, seven rebounds and four steals in 22 minutes of action. 

The freshman contingent will need to step up again with Colley gone when MSU travels to Notre Dame.

“We need to be mentally strong and stay focused,” said Parks after the win over UD-Mercy Friday.

Talented youth combined with star veteran play often yields a club that trusts each other, plays sound basketball and doesn’t do more than what is needed to deliver. 

When every player, coach and walk on buys into the message of the head coach and is only concerned with doing their job well, nothing becomes impossible to accomplish. 

While not there yet, the Spartans certainly are headed in the right direction as the schedule heats up with a road contest against Notre Dame next on the docket. 

MSU will head to Notre Dame to take on the No. 15-ranked Irish on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. 

You can follow Nathan Stearns on Twitter @NathanStearns11