EAST LANSING — The Michigan State Spartans fell to the Purdue Boilermakers by a score of 76-66 on Thursday. This is only the Spartans’ second loss at home, putting them at 8-2 at the Breslin Center.
In the first quarter, the Spartans got out to a quick start. The story early wasn’t Nia Clouden, as she started 0-for-4 from the field. The story wasn’t great shooting numbers either, as the Spartans shot 33.3% in the first.
The difference was Nia Hollie and her winning plays. It wasn’t putting the ball in the basket but she accumulated stats everywhere else. Four rebounds, two assists and three steals, as well as some nice leadership gave them a quick start. It allowed the Spartans to stay in the game until their scorers turned it on. They led 10-3 at the first media timeout.
“The percentages weren’t spectacular per say, but I do think it’s nice to have one or two more (scorers),” coach Suzy Merchant said. “We had to play Nia Hollie at some five.”
Something changed in the second quarter. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but it was an array of things. Clouden even started getting in the mix offensively with six points, and finished with 17. Three separate times Michigan State bailed out Purdue when the Boilermakers were running out of time on the shot clock. Several times the Spartans went under screens leaving 3-point shooters open, Karissa McLaughlin in particular. Mental errors cost the Spartans in the end.
McLaughlin lit up the Spartans with 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting from behind the arc. These weren’t easy shots either. They were some deep threes scattered in there too. Long shots mean long rebounds, and Purdue took advantage of Michigan State’s lack of blocking out. The Boilermakers added five rebounds and seven second-chance points.
“That’s why we need to block out,” Hollie screamed in the team huddle at the Big Ten logo in the paint. Frustration was mounting.
The Spartans also struggled in help defense once again. Merchant threw up her hands in disgust multiple times. Help comes, but it is late and lazy. It also doesn’t benefit the Spartans that the third rotation player isn’t coming off of her assignment at the 3-point line. Learning the defense will come with time.
This season has become a “Jekyll and Hyde” Michigan State team. Some nights you get a tournament-ready team, and others you don’t. The wily veterans such as Hollie and Taryn McCutcheon are trying to savor their last couple outings as a Spartan and the freshmen such as Moira Joiner and Taiyier Parks are still figuring out the reigns of what Merchant demands.
Well into the second half was more scoring droughts for MSU paired with Purdue runs. The Boilermakers ended the third quarter on an 8-0 run and really gained separation. The Spartans cut it to an eight-point deficit early in the fourth, but two key 3-pointers by Purdue’s McLaughin quieted the Michigan State faithful. She was the key to the game.
This loss drops Michigan State to 11-10 overall and 4-6 in conference. Michigan State had four players in double digits tonight with Clouden, Joiner, McCutcheon and Kayla Belles. Where else will help come from? This Spartan team has a lot of questions to be answered, and it doesn’t get any easier from here.
“We didn’t even know if she (Belles) was going to play today,” Merchant said. “She tried to get through shootaround and they gave her some meds to help with the pain.”
This adds to the injury report with Mardrekia Cook, Shay Colley, Victoria Gaines and McCutcheon all injured. Merchant can’t get a break. The injury bug has hit the Spartans like a tidal wave. All you can do it put out the healthy players and play your hardest.
The Spartans’ next game comes on the road versus No. 17 Maryland on Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on BTN+.
Contact Sutton Magee at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @suttonmagee12.