WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — Michigan State was on the ropes. At 13-12, the team was ninth in the Big Ten and needed a spark after injuries decimated its offensive production. Wins against Minnesota and Rutgers provided the spark, but they were low-scoring, defensive affairs.
The Spartans needed offensive production, and they found it. Taryn McCutcheon and Nia Clouden each scored 14 points, while Kayla Belles added 13 in a 65-63 win over Purdue.
It was Clouden, who carried the load for the Spartans as she has all season. Who went coast to coast for the score with 1.2 seconds left, giving MSU the two point win.
Tory Ozment opened the scoring for the Spartans with a nice layup. She completed an and-one after drawing a foul on the attempt. Michigan State showed some defensive rust early, allowing wide open attempts on Purdue’s first two shots.
Belles found some space down low, scoring four fast points. Otherwise, the Spartans had to fight for points early, draining shot clocks faster than they drained shots.
Both teams moved the ball well in the first quarter. Michigan State showed some much-needed vigor, shooting 67% from the floor.
The offensive onslaught took a break early in the second, with no baskets until Clouden’s free throw almost three minutes into the quarter. Clouden was pivotal on one of the most spectacular plays of the game, throwing a pass to McCutcheon while falling out of bounds. McCutcheon swished one home from deep to put the Spartans up 27-19.
The second quarter was all Purdue from there. The Boilermakers ripped off a 12-0 run, including its first two 3-pointers from Cassidy Hardin and Jemelle Grant. The Spartans helped, as the offense that dominated the first suddenly started whiffing open shots.
“Sheesh, that’s embarrassing,” said head coach Suzy Merchant. “But we had good looks, though, I would say. Layups, Taryn had a couple open threes, our bunnies around the basket. We were lucky to survive that.”
Clouden had a rough quarter, missing several open layups and jumpers. She appeared visibly frustrated as she headed off the court after the half.
“We had a little chat at halftime,” said Merchant. “It was like, ‘You’re getting a lot of looks, but you need to finish.’ You don’t get points for fancy.”
The third quarter was dominated by defense. Karissa McLaughlin made two quick pull-up jumpers for Purdue, but the Boilermaker offense was silenced after that.
The Spartan offense couldn’t get going either. It struggled to find the form they had early, as Purdue locked them down and took away the open looks they found in the first half. Taiyier Parks provided a spark, scoring a tough layup after Ae’Rianna Harris failed to intercept McCutcheon’s entry pass.
With shots coming at a premium in the third, free throws were essential for both teams. Ozment made all four of her free throws in the quarter, drawing key fouls at the right time.
Ozment later tied the game for the Spartans at 44 after a free layup off a steal.
Both of the Spartans’ guards upped their game in the fourth. McCutcheon and Clouden had back to back five-point runs to keep Michigan State in the game. Harris put the team on her back, converting layups down low and drawing fouls. She kept MSU on the ropes before the Boilermakers looked outside, where McLaughlin hit a deep three that excited the crowd.
Down three, Michigan State looked to an unlikely savior — Belles. She hit a deep three of her own to tie the game, then hit a difficult contested layup over Harris to even the score again at 61.
Clouden’s jumper with 21.7 seconds left put the Spartans ahead, 63-61. But the Spartans missed a defensive assignment on the next Purdue possession. Jemelle Grant took advantage and scored an easy layup.
At the end of the game, the Spartans turned to Clouden again. After a Purdue shot clock violation, they drove down the length of the court and got the ball out of bounds. Ozment inbounded to Clouden, who dribbled around the arc, then blew by Harris for a lay-in with 1.2 seconds remaining to secure a 65-63 win.
“Her pull-up was good,” said Merchant. “She got out of her own way.”
Merchant was in high spirits after the game.
“I’m just feeling really good about a young team that’s starting to come together,” she said. “After all the adversity we’ve had, it’s kinda nice to see things come together on both ends of the floor.”
The Spartans look to win their fourth straight game on Sunday against Michigan at 5 p.m.
Contact Ian Drummond at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @idrumma.