Magee: Takeaways as Spartans end two-game skid against Wisconsin


Credit: Joe Dandron / WDBM

Sutton Magee, Women's basketball beat writer

EAST LANSING — Defensively the Michigan State Spartans struggled some in the first half versus Wisconsin, but halftime adjustments and a strong push in the second half gave MSU a 69-52 win over Wisconsin. 

The win end’s the Spartans two-game losing streak.

In wins and losses there are takeaways, so here is what I say as MSU got back on track Sunday afternoon: 

Halftime adjustments prove to be the difference, Spartan defense clamped down in the second half

Many times MSU fronted the post and help wasn’t there. Wisconsin’s guards threw it over the top for a lot of wide open layups. In one situation early in the second quarter Belles was fronting Wisconsin big Imani Lewis and Joiner was supposed to be in help side defense. Joiner failed to shift over in time and got a nice eye roll from Suzy Merchant. 

MSU couldn’t make their layups at the same rate and it hurt them mightily, with only 10 points in the pain in the first half. This allowed the Badgers to keep the game close early on. Then, the problem was addressed at halftime and MSU held the Badgers to just seven points in the third quarter. 

The proof: Wisconsin big Imani Lewis had 12 points and nine rebounds at halftime and was held to zero points and four rebounds in the second half. 

That type of adjustment is important come March, so it’s refreshing to see MSU head coach Suzy Merchant make a much needed change mid-game. 

Finding a third option is a must for MSU

When watching this Michigan State team, Nia Clouden and Taryn McCutcheon stand out. They are the most consistent scorers night in and night out. There are three main jobs within a team: scorers, rebounders, and glue pieces. 

Right now Suzy Merchant is looking for someone to fill that third scoring role. Clouden and McCutcheon score a majority of the teams points, but they can’t have a great game every time. Merchant knows points will also need to come by committee, that is part of this roster’s depth, but the role of a third go-to-scorer is needed for the occasional off nights such as the one McCutcheon had this afternoon.

We’ll always take points by committee, but we need a third scorer,” Merchant said after the win. “I think we see Julia (Aryault) as a kid that can be pretty consistent in scoring. Kayla’s (Belles) been playing up and down in the post. If we can get more consistency out of her, I think those are the two kids who have the most potential to be consistent. I think it is going to be back by committee but skillset wise I would look at Kayla and Julia.”  

Underclassman finding their legs in Big Ten play

At points during the Spartans Big Ten tilt with Wisconsin, there were four freshmen on the court at one point in the game. This wasn’t a mistake, it was just what this season has become.

With Mardrekia Cook, Shay Colley and Victoria Gaines all out, the latter two for the season, the slack has fallen to underclassmen such as Mo Joiner and Tory Ozment to step up. Tonight Joiner had six points and Ozment had eight. They’ll need this consistently from them if they plan on making a deep run in the Big Ten tournament or NCAA’s. 

“Mo (Joiner) against Nebraska might miss her first three or four shots, and she takes the next one,”  Merchant said. “She has a short term memory. (Tory) Ozment is starting to get healthy and get back to life a little bit.” 

In a few years, this time will serve this class well. However, the focus is now on finishing this season strong. The underclassmen are the future of the program and are needed to contribute in the present. 

Spartans dissect Zone defense

Wisconsin trotted out a 2-3 zone defense to start out the game, but MSU answered the bell quickly. Merchant had Nia Hollie at the top of the key and Belles running the short corners, allowing for several easy buckets. Hollie had three assists and Belles contributed seven points on the night.  

“With some of our kids out we have to look at some things differently,” Merchant said. “I thought we did a good job (against the 2-3 defense.) I felt like the high post was somewhere we could really get the ball and attack. It was open quite a bit. If they are a shooter they have to be able to pass the ball and make good angles and reads. I thought that was our best zone offense was just spacing the floor and running that short corner and high post action.” 

Looking Ahead

Michigan State (9-7, 2-3 Big Ten) can continue the winning trend and get out of their slump if they plan on making the tournament with the team’s next matchup coming at home against unranked Ohio State (10-6, 3-2 Big Ten). The game is on Jan. 16, with tip-off set for 6 p.m.

Sutton Magee is a women’s basketball beat writer for Impact89FM. You can follow him on Twitter @SuttonMagee12