FINAL: Spartans beat Fighting Illini 81-60

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Suzy Merchant gives instructions to her players in the Spartans’ 81-68 road win over Minnesota/Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Manit Patel, Women's Basketball Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — Coming off of two losses by a combined 52 points to Indiana and Maryland, the Spartans needed a win vs. Illinois on Thursday. They delivered with an astounding 81-60 win, which puts them at 10-4 on the season and 5-4 in the Big Ten. 

Right from the start, the Spartans looked hungry and driven to win, when they ended the first quarter with a nine-point lead. While that lead grew to a whopping 23 points at halftime, the Fighting Illini made it a 14-point game at the end of the third quarter. However, that halftime lead proved to be enough of a cushion, as a good fourth quarter from the Spartans allowed them to hold on for a 21-point win. 

The Spartans played a truly well rounded game, with 11 different players finding the scoring column. Nia Clouden led the way with another sensational game, scoring 28 points, while Alisia Smith added 10 points as a member of the starting lineup. 

Coach Suzy Merchant had high praise for Smith, saying that she has been “getting in work with Coach Dean, working on her inside game, and really showing that she wants to contribute.” That leap of good faith has not gone unnoticed by Smith, who was “beyond grateful” for the opportunity. 

While the starting lineups have been varying over the past few games, Clouden believes in the Spartans’ adaptability.

“We mix lineups up all the time at practice,” Clouden said, “and Coach Merchant has kept us on our toes, so I really feel comfortable with whoever is starting on any given day.”

While the statistics didn’t show much disparity between the teams, the Spartans really earned their money’s worth in the transition game and on the glass.  Merchant and Clouden really emphasized the need to perform in those areas prior to the game, and the Spartans did just that, amassing 22 fastbreak points to Illinois’ 10. As for the boards, the Spartans really beat up the Illini on both the offensive and defensive glass, grabbing 13 offensive boards to the Illini’s seven, to go along with a plus-eight rebounding margin.

The Spartans flew out to a quick lead, which was very much needed, and they never let Illinois sniff any chance of a comeback en route to their first win in 10 days. They’ll look to start their own winning streak when they face off against Northwestern (10-3) this Sunday in East Lansing.

Follow Manit Patel on Twitter at @manit__patel.