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'Embarrassing' defensive effort dooms Michigan State women's hoops in loss to Michigan

Lansing State Journal logo Lansing State Journal 1/6/2020 Brian Calloway, Lansing State Journal

ANN ARBOR - Mardrekia Cook knows the Michigan State women’s basketball team hasn’t always been consistent on offense.

But the junior has come to expect the Spartans to always give their best effort on defense.

That didn't happen Sunday.

And the final outcome reflected that for the Spartans, who suffered what MSU coach Suzy Merchant called an "embarrassing" 89-69 loss to rival Michigan at Crisler Center.

Michigan shot 77 percent in the second half and used a 16-0 run spanning the late stages of the third quarter and the opening portion of the fourth to pull away and end a three-game losing streak to MSU.

“I was disappointed in our overall performance, especially on the defensive end,” Merchant said. “We’ve been guarding people pretty much all year, so there’s absolutely no reason for us to give up 89 points and let them shoot 92 percent in the third quarter. That’s embarrassing, and it’s unacceptable. I take responsibility for that too. Anyone I put out there was doing the same thing.”

a group of men playing a game of football: Michigan State forward Mardrekia Cook (2) drives on Michigan forward Naz Hillmon (00) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) © Carlos Osorio, AP Michigan State forward Mardrekia Cook (2) drives on Michigan forward Naz Hillmon (00) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Taryn McCutcheon had a season-high 23 points on 7 of 13 shooting from the field and Cook added 13 points off the bench to lead MSU, which was playing its second straight game without injured senior starters Victoria Gaines and preseason All-Big Ten guard Shay Colley.

MSU (8-6, 1-2 Big Ten) missed both, especially the presence of Gaines in the post. The Spartans had no answer for Michigan sophomore post Naz Hillmon, who was a force in the paint and had 21 points and 12 rebounds.

Amy Dilk added 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting from the field and had plenty of success driving to the paint to help the Wolverines (11-3, 2-1) earn just their second win over the Spartans in their last nine meetings.

“It was good for three quarters, and they just came out and drove right by us like we weren’t there,” Merchant said. “Especially the personnel that they had, a couple of them we were cushioning them and to give them a cushion and still get beat was disappointing. I thought Naz Hillmon just had her way with us in every way she could. 

"I recognize without (Gaines) anymore and (being) done for the season we’re very young (in the post). You can be young and compete, and our kids didn’t compete in the post at all.”

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MSU was within striking distance in the late stages of the third quarter. Freshman Alyza Winston hit a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left that pulled the Spartans within one at 60-59. But Dilk hit a 3 just before the quarter ended and that kicked off what wound up being a 16-0 run.

“Our kids executed down the stretch and they found a way,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We wore them down and we were able to make all those plays down the stretch while continuing to play great defense. That’s something that we emphasized.

"Our three goals were to rebound, take care of the basketball and defend Michigan State. I think we really locked into that in the fourth quarter and you didn’t see any drop so we were really able to take care of business. I thought our kids finished well on the offensive end.”

MSU was just 3 of 14 from the field in the final quarter while being outscored by Michigan, 26-10. The Spartans' first points of the final quarter didn’t come until McCutcheon hit a pair of free throws with 4:57 to play.

“I felt like we went through a really bad slump that we couldn’t get ourselves out of,” Cook said. “I really feel like Michigan played way harder than us and they wanted this game more than us and it showed. Our coach said statistically they missed one shot in the third quarter or something like that and they scored  54 points (in the second half). We couldn’t get the ball in the basket and that really was a downfall."

Contact Brian Calloway at bcalloway@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: 'Embarrassing' defensive effort dooms Michigan State women's hoops in loss to Michigan

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