By Drew Kamaski | @d_kamaski14
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – Sixth-seeded Michigan State improved to 21-10 on the season and advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament for the second consecutive season and the 13th time overall after defeating Michigan 74-64. Redshirt freshman forward Victoria Gaines led the Spartans with 18 points, shooting 6-of-9 from the field.
“I just used my height and size as an advantage,” said Gaines, who established a career high and led the Spartans in scoring for the first time this season. “Just being aggressive on offense, driving the ball and it just clicked for me.”
Michigan State’s record improved to 13-7 in Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal games. The victory marked the seventh time that a No. 6 seed has defeated a No. 3 seed. The Spartans are now 14-1 when at least three players have scored in double figures. Four players scored in double digits on Friday night, which included a surprising performance from reserve sophomore center Jenna Allen.
Allen, from Bedford, Ind., scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting. “The one thing our bigs can do that’s sort of probably what they do best, to be honest,” said Spartan coach Suzy Merchant about her dynamic center’s range. “We put Jenna at the high post and she was able to knock down a few of those shots and take advantage. She has one of the best shots of any post player I’ve ever coached. She’s really a really good shooter for a true center.”
Michigan State’s bench outscored Michigan’s bench, 22-5. The Wolverine substitutes made just 1 of 4 shots. If not for a pair of free throws, Michigan’s bench would have been limited to 3 points.
“They don’t have a very deep bench,” said Merchant, whose team is now 6-0 against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. “They play their five starters almost the entire game and sprinkle in a kid or two.”
After a tightly contested first quarter, the Spartans took a 21-19 lead with 6:59 left in the second quarter and never surrendered the lead. As a team, Michigan struggled from the field, converting only 25 of 70 field goals and 7 of 21 3-point attempts.
Freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick, junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, and sophomore center Hallie Thome combined for 57 of Michigan’s 64 points. But without help from the bench, the highest-scoring trio in the Big Ten Conference was unable to overcome the shut-down defense of the Spartans.
“I mean, that’s the difference,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, the 2017 Big Ten Coach of the Year. “If you look at their bench points compared to our bench points, that really made an impact for them today.”
Senior guard Tori Jankoska, who recently joined the 2,000-point club, and redshirt senior Branndais Agee had 14 and 12 points, respectively. Jankoska scored in double figures for the 31st time in 31 games this season and the 112th time in her career.
The victory over Michigan means the Spartans will face second-seeded Maryland, who they have never beaten under Merchant, in the semifinal tomorrow for a shot at the final against either top-seeded Ohio State or fifth-seeded Purdue. Michigan State lost to Maryland in its last meeting, 89-72.
“Maybe their bus won’t show up on time,” said Merchant with a chuckle. “It’s a challenge for sure. I think they’re a well-oiled machine.”