Spartans hold on for 71-64 win over Purdue


Nia Clouden attempts a runner in the lane against St. Francis/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Nathan Stearns, Sports Editorial Assistant

EAST LANSING—The Spartans’ win Sunday wasn’t pretty, but it counts all the same.

Despite shooting under 23.5% in the third quarter, Michigan State (8-0, 3-0) held on at Purdue (5-3, 2-2) 71-64 to remain undefeated.

The Boilermakers shot below 35% in the game and struggled to maintain any sort of offensive rhythm. Although the Spartans didn’t shoot much better—only 40.7%—their ability to hit key free throws down the stretch was the difference. 

The 8-0 start is the best for the Spartans since the 2012-13 season. 

Nia Clouden led the Spartans in scoring with 23 points, while Penn State transfer Alisia Smith chipped in with 15 points, including nine huge ones in the fourth quarter. Julia Ayrault also had a solid game with 10 points.

“I thought Smitty was great,” head coach Suzy Merchant said. ”They gave her a foul that really wasn’t hers and that was kind of a bummer because it got her on the bench…late in the game, she’s a very good free throw shooter.”

Suzy Merchant and Julia Ayrault watch practice as the Spartans prepare for Purdue/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

With her 23-point performance, Clouden is only 14 points away from reaching the 1,000-point milestone in her career.

Purdue guard Kayana Traylor scored 16 points to lead the Boilermakers in scoring. 

The Boilermakers would jump out to an early 9-5 lead after making their first four shots from the floor. The Spartans would respond with a quick 4-0 run to tie the game up at nine, courtesy of a balanced scoring attack. Five different players scored within the first seven minutes of the game.

MSU would jump ahead 17-12 at the end of the first quarter after Purdue missed six shots in a row from the floor over the final three minutes of the period. 

The Spartans would extend their lead to 22-13 after an Ayrault 3-pointer forced Purdue coach Sharon Versyp to call a timeout. After making their first four shots from the floor, the Boilermakers missed their next eight field goal attempts and 11 of their last 12. 

Julia Ayrault drives in the lane against Iowa G Caitlin Clark/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

After a mini-scoring run from Purdue, the Spartans would close out the half on a 7-0 run of their own to take a 37-25 lead into the break. Clouden led the Spartans with eight points, but nine different players tallied at least two points for MSU. 

Smith had six points off the bench for the Spartans; MSU had 16 total bench points in the first half. The Spartans shot 46.4% from the floor in the opening frame, while Purdue mustered a 34.8% clip.

After a Taiyier Parks layup to open the third quarter, the Boilermakers would respond with an 8-0 run to cut the Spartan lead to six. Both teams would follow by shooting a combined 2-for-15 from the floor over the next several minutes. A Clouden driving layup gave MSU the 41-34 lead at the media timeout. 

Nia Clouden talks to Alyza Winston, Julia Ayrault and Mardrekia Cook/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Two key buckets by Ayrault and Clouden at the end of the third pushed the MSU lead to 45-40. Before the two layups, Purdue had trimmed the deficit to one as the Spartans didn’t score in over four minutes. 

Five quick Clouden points, along with an Ayrault layup, helped extend the Spartan lead to 52-43 in the early stages of the fourth quarter. Clouden, who scored 11 points in the fourth, was the main reason the Spartans were able to survive the multitude of Purdue runs, along with the excellent play of Smith.

“That’s what players do that are all-conference kids; they step up and make shots,” Merchant said. “We will be collectively better when we get a little bit more consistency around her.”

The Spartans will look to maintain their undefeated record when they welcome No. 14 Maryland (6-1, 2-0) to the Breslin Center on Thursday, Jan. 7. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m.