Spartans drop rivalry game in brutal fashion

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Taryn McCutcheon/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

Charlotte Steinberg, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

ANN ARBOR, Mich — “I hate losing to Michigan. I don’t do it often but I did today and this team did too.” That’s how Suzy Merchant started out her post game press conference as the Michigan State Spartans fell to the Wolverines 69-89 in Crisler Arena.

Taryn McCutcheon, the senior captain and four year starter came to Ann Arbor for the last time, finishing with a team-high 37 minutes and team leading 23 points on 7-of-13 (4-of-6 from downtown). 

 “This loss is different, it’s Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. It’s a big deal to win or lose and you have to go into the next game and take it out on the next team, happy we have them (Michigan) at home. Michigan and the Spartans will have a rematch on Feb. 23 at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. 

“That fourth quarter killed us. We played with them the whole game, we played hard. That fourth quarter we couldn’t stop them, especially on the drives and down low… that was a big challenge,” added the senior native out of East Lansing High School. 

Sophomore standout and starting guard Nia Clouden got into foul trouble early and caused the most consistent player for the Spartans to be sent to the bench. “I did not think that Nia Clouden played well at all. I thought she was very flat and seemed very disinterested offensively, and defensively just was not herself today,” said Merchant. 

Marderekia Cook, who finished with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting felt disappointed in her team’s performance. “We went through a really bad slump that we could just not get ourselves out, and I really feel like they just played way harder than us and wanted this game more than us.”

Some of the most consistent players for the Spartans early in the season have been the freshmen. Players such as Julia Ayrault and Moira Joiner did not provide for the Spartans in their first trip to Ann Arbor. 

“Our freshman played like freshman and I know they are better than that in how they perform but quite honestly they were a big disappointment”. Coach Merchant stressed in her post game conference that her team played under her expectations.

“Most of these kids are from our state and they should have had a lot more energy, a lot more toughness and be a lot more effective in this game,” said Merchant.

Merchant was not happy with how her post players played today and was disappointed. “We need more coming from Kayla Belles and Taiyier Parks, when we throw it in there it can’t be taken from you, traveled, miss a wide open layup if you are going to be at that next level and that is what Naz does. She gets it down there (in the post), she makes it, it’s usually either a score or and-one, if the shots goes up she gets the rebound and she makes her free throws”.

Naz Hillmon, the sophomore from Cleveland, Ohio was the driving force behind the success for the Wolverines, finishing with 21 points and adding 12 rebounds.

Free throws have been a problem for the Spartans and have cost them valuable points in games such as the Sunshine Classic against ranked opponents then in Syracuse and West Virginia.

“Michigan came out and drove right by us like we weren’t there,” said Merchant after the loss. “Naz Hillmon just had her way and with Coco (Victoria Gaines; the senior captain and starter) done for the season our kids just did not compete in the post”. 

The Spartans will use this game as a stepping stone and lesson for the future. Suzy Merchant’s team will travel to Penn State to take on the Nittany Lions on Jan. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Contact Charlotte Steinberg at [email protected]