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Michigan State’s lack of fight leads to an uncharacteristic defeat

By Alaa Abdeldaiem | @Abdeldaiem_Alaa

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — For the second half of Sunday night’s 60-44 Big Ten title game loss against fifth-ranked Maryland, Michigan State’s Suzy Merchant had no answers.

She thought her team had it. For the game’s first two quarters, the coach of the Spartans watched her team limit Maryland’s Brionna Jones to just two points.

Michigan State outscored the Terrapins 12-4 in points in the paint in the first quarter and 16-6 at the half. The Spartans had a 26-24 lead heading into the locker room and became just the fourth team to lead Maryland at halftime.

But everything changed after that. Michigan State shot 4-for-13 and 2-for-11 in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. Junior forward Aerial Powers scored her first points with 2:43 left in the third quarter, finishing with a season-low eight points on the night.

The Spartans’ defense broke down, allowing Maryland to go on an 11-0 run at the end of the third quarter and hold Michigan State scoreless for that duration.

There was no fight. No hustle. No drive.

There was nothing that Merchant, in her ninth year at Michigan State, could draw up — no play or scheme she could put together — that would solve the lack of urgency her team was showing on the big stage, the absence of effort that would leave its championship hopes unfulfilled.

“It’s frustrating,” Merchant said. “It’s disappointing. The second half, we just stopped playing and stopped competing. It’s absolutely ridiculous. That’s not the team we wanted to be.”

Powers wasn’t the only Spartan Maryland was able to eliminate. Sophomore guard Branndais Agee was 0-of-9 shooting on the night, and only junior guard Tori Jankoska, who scored 12 points, reached double digits.

“(Maryland) had a good defense, but how many points did we have?” Jankoska said. “That’s not normal for us, even against great defenses. We hurt ourselves. We were turning the ball over, weren’t finding open people, weren’t getting up into rebounds. We just couldn’t get anything going.”

The Terrapins also overpowered Michigan State at the rim, taking a 47-35 advantage in rebounds by the end of the night.

“They were getting offensive rebounds, and we needed to get in there and rip some boards away,” Jankoska said. “Instead of it being a jump ball, have it be a foul and have them flip over your back. They’re extremely physical, so you have to match that. We did in the first half, and in the second half, we just didn’t.”

Despite the championship loss, Michigan State is still set up for another run for the ultimate NCAA crown.

But the journey will be fruitless with another performance like Sunday night’s, and for the sake of her team’s success and future, Merchant hopes that’s a realization her Spartans can embrace.

“You have to show up in championship games, on big stages,” Merchant said. “You have to bring the same consistent energy, the same consistent enthusiasm, the same consistent hustle, both halves, regardless of if you’re up or down, in foul trouble or not in foul trouble, making shots or not. You have to stay in the fight, and I sure hope we do that next time.

“Because next time, there won’t be a next time.”

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