By DeSherion McBroom | @dvo_maximus
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State used a 16-0 run, with six players contributing, to advance to a quarterfinal of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament with a 68-52 victory over Northwestern on Thursday afternoon.
The ninth-seeded Spartans (20-10) will meet top-seeded Maryland at 12:00 p.m. on Friday. Michigan State reached a Big Ten quarterfinal game for the 21st time in 25 tournaments and has won 20 or more games for the 10th time in the 12 seasons Suzy Merchant has been the coach.
Shay Colley led the Spartans with 14 points. Jenna Allen and Nia Clouden each added 11. Michigan State trailed for just 1:33 and led by as many as 19 points.
But when eighth-seeded Northwestern (16-14) came within 47-44 with 2:29 to go in the third quarter, the Wildcats had a chance to defeat Michigan State for the second time this season. That was when the 16-0 run, with Clouden, Colley, Allen, Mardrekia Cook and Sidney Cooks all scoring, gave the Spartans a 63-44 lead with 4:50 to play.
“We’ve had quarters where we’ve only scored six points and it’s killed us,” Merchant said. “We can’t have that. Like now is the time. We have to put our foot down and get better and we need more leadership and people have to step up.”
Northwestern became stagnant in its half-court offense for most of the second half, and the Wildcats made just 28 percent of their shots in the third and fourth quarters. Abbie Wolf scored 15 points, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah added 11 with eight rebounds and Veronica Burton scored 10 with eight rebounds and five assists.
Northwestern coach Joe McKeown pointed to Michigan State’s 24-point first quarter, when the Spartans made 50 percent of their shots and 57 percent from 3-point range. “In the first half, first quarter, we gave up way more points than we normally do,” McKeown said. “When we beat Michigan State early in the year, it was because of our defense.”
Michigan State led at the half, 39-32. Northwestern had to be happy only being down by seven points as sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam, the first-team all-conference player with a team-high 16.7 scoring average, was held scoreless in the half. Pulliam was held to a season-low 2 points on 1-for-13 shooting.
On Friday, Michigan State will compete for a third spot in the semifinals in four tournaments. Merchant knows the Spartans will have to bring some of the same energy they had earlier in the season when they defeated Maryland.
“They’re defending Big Ten Champions that we have to play, so it’s not going to be easy, and I’m sure they’re looking forward to the battle tomorrow,” Merchant said.