As soon as the ball tipped in East Lansing at the Breslin Center, the Spartans were aggressive. Kayla Belles started off the game with an and-1. In the early minutes the Spartans and Buckeyes traded buckets but Ohio State was heavy on 3-pointers. Ohio State shot 43% in the first quarter while the Spartans shot 33%.
Buckeyes’ Madison Greene and Jacy Sheldon made threes early and the Spartans needed to tighten up their defense around the arc. Greene finished 10 points (1-for-3 from deep) and Sheldon finished with 11 points (3-for-3 from deep).
Switches on post players made players like Nia Clouden guard much taller and physical players, proving to be a problem for Michigan State. One of the most exciting plays in the game was at the end of the first quarter when Tory Ozment made a last second 3-pointer to bring the Spartans within one. Ozment finished with six points on 2-for-5 shooting.
In the second quarter, the Spartans were all over the place, diving after balls and rebounding. A standout in the second was the senior point guard Taryn McCutcheon. Whether she was front-facing double-double machine Dorka Juhasz in the paint, taking shots in the paint, or drawing offensive fouls (four total) she was everywhere. McCutcheon did not attempt a 3-pointer in the entire first half, which is very rare.
After the game, Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant was impressed with the senior who has been dealing with some injuries.
“Taryn’s presence out there, we weren’t sure if she was going to play today with a broken finger and her achilles issue,” Merchant said. “She is just a warrior… the reason Clouden played so well is because Taryn fought through some things and was able to find her…for Taryn to even score points in that game and she shot almost every shot left handed except for one just amazing… she has a lot of heart.”
In the last two minutes of the half the Spartans fell apart. The Buckeyes went on a 7-0 run thanks to Aaliyah Patty, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds on 5-for-8 shooting.
Maybe it was something that Merchant said in the locker room at halftime? Maybe the seniors? We will never know, but the Spartans picked it up at the start of the second half. With 5:22 left in the third quarter, Michigan State made Ohio State call timeout due to offensive fouls and bad shot selection. The Buckeyes hadn’t made a shot in almost the first four minutes of the third quarter.
Hustle is the word to describe MSU freshman Moira Joiner. Coach Merchant only has kind words for the hardworking freshman.
“Ugh that kid is just…if I could bottle her up and put a little of her in every player, I would be one of the happiest coaches on the planet.” Merchant went on to say, “I love what she does. She is gritty, she is smart, she knows angles, she competes, she doesn’t force any shots… she does some things that (we) can’t not have on the floor… her better days are coming.”
In the third quarter, Joiner grabbed a rebound off a Sheldon miss and took it coast-to-coast for a bucket.. It didn’t stop there… Joiner wanted more. Wide open on the right corner near the Spartan bench, she of course drained a long ball to put the Spartans up six points.
Like in the first half, Michigan State left the door open for Ohio State. With a careless play from Ozment resulting in a turnover and a Kierstan Bell layup, the Spartans were only up four heading into the fourth quarter.
Both teams early in the fourth quarter were lighting it up from deep. Sharpshooter and two-time Freshman of the Week Kierstan Bell gave energy off the bench for Ohio State. From careless fouls from Belles and missed shots, the Spartans were giving the Buckeyes countless opportunities.
Clouden calmed things down, giving the Spartans some breathing room with a much-needed 3-pointer with 3:57 remaining in the game. After the game, the sophomore talked about her performance in the second half.
“In the second half I was trying to set my teammates up some more and that really opened things up for me and I was able to take advantage of that,” Clouden said.
With the game slipping away from Michigan State, Clouden came up huge for the Spartans and converted an and-1 with 13.4 seconds left in the game. The Spartans would then complete a great defensive stance and finish the game for a solid Big Ten conference win by the Spartans. Clouden led the way with 20 points, and not far behind with 10 points was Mardrekia Cook. Overall, Michigan State proved to be the stronger team in the fourth quarter and beat a quality team in the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Contact Charlotte Steinberg at [email protected]