Spartans’ 2-3 Zone Proves to be Effective

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Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant (Photo: Ian Gilmour / WDBM)

Charlotte Steinberg, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — On Thursday at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center the Michigan State women’s basketball team (12-12, 5-8 Big Ten) finally broke its five-game losing streak with a win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (17-7, 7-6 Big Ten). 

“We were not gonna lose this game no matter the opponent,” said senior point guard Taryn McCutcheon, who led the Spartans in scoring with 16 points in 38 minutes of play. 

Michigan State was trailing 24-31 at the half, but something switched at halftime. The Spartans changed their defense by using a two-three zone. This strategy proved to be effective and caused the Scarlet Knights’ best player, Arella Guirantes, to only score 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting. 

Michigan State freshman standout and starter Moira Joiner talked postgame about the Spartans’ change of defense and why they were so successful. 

“Very effective, the adjustment was very smart because we were getting gassed,” Joiner said. “We haven’t played much zone all year so it was a surprise to them and communicated very well.”

Late in the fourth quarter, the Spartans went on a 10-2 run that eventually led to the team’s victory. Michigan State’s season could’ve never been predicted. With the losses of Shay Colley, Victoria Gaines and Mardrekia Cook, the Spartans started to look depleted. 

After the win over Rutgers, coach Suzy Merchant spoke about the Spartans’ zone defense.

“We have been working on (the zone) a little bit, mostly because of kids being injured,” said Merchant. “Something we have had in the bag…. We went to the zone and I thought our kids did a good job recognizing the shooters and it slowed (Rutgers) down.” 

Tory Ozment, a sophmore from Georgia, entered the starting lineup for the Spartans instead of senior Nia Hollie. 

“(Tory) has a better shooting percentage and can score, she is more offensively-minded,” said Merchant. 

By adding Ozment, the Scarlet Knights’ defense had to watch for her because she entered the game shooting 41% from downtown. The Spartans were on a losing streak and needed scoring badly. 

Jordan Wallace was a force for Rutgers and in the second half, the zone really stopped her from scoring. Wallace had 19 points but was non-existent in the second half. 

“Yeah, we could play zone in games again but it all depends on matchups and the teams,” said Merchant.

Overall, the Spartans pulled out a solid win over the then-fifth place Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten and kept their postseason hopes alive. The next game for the Spartans is Monday at home against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The game can be streamed on BTN+. 

Charlotte Steinberg is a women’s basketball beat reporter for Impact 89FM WDBM. Contact her at [email protected]