The Michigan State Spartans women’s basketball team is down in Florida for the West Palm Beach Invitational that will feature back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday. MSU opens today with the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles at 11 a.m. EST and takes on the West Virginia Mountaineers tomorrow at 11 a.m. EST. Both games are only available to watch via web streaming service FloHoops.
Florida Gulf Coast Preview
The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles enter Monday’s game at 9-1 overall, with the only loss on the season coming in a home matchup against Princton on Dec. 1, 58-55. Among the season’s highlights for the Eagles thus far would be the team’s 88-74 win at LSU on Nov. 14, FGCU’s only true road game thus far on the year.
The Eagles are 11th in the nation in scoring, averaging 82.2 points per game and rank sixth in scoring margin (+25.5, giving up 56.7 ppg on average). One-time Ohio State and Big Ten All-Freshman team honoree for 2019-2020, and now junior guard Kierstan Ball leads FGCU in scoring with 23.6 points per game (fifth in the nation in scoring) and averages a team-high 8.3 rebounds per game as well.
Michigan State is 1-1 all-time against the Eagles, but the two programs have not played each other since 2011. The Spartans won in 2009, 94-71, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing before falling 59-58 in Boca Raton in 2011.
West Virginia Preview
The Spartans have faced the Mountaineers far more recently than the Eagles, but similarly the last matchup (and only one in the all-time series) was in Florida in 2019. In the Florida Sunshine Classic in Orlando, MSU fell to WVU 63-57 on Dec. 21, 2019. Nia Clouden led Michigan State in scoring in that game with 16 points and eight rebounds.
As for this season, the 6-2 Mountaineers won four straight games to open the season, finishing the winning streak with a 65-57 neutral court win over Purdue before suffering back-to-back losses to BYU (neutral court) and No. 16 Kentucky (road game). West Virginia snapped the two-game losing streak with victories over Charlotte and James Madison, with the 75-68 victory over the Dukes coming on the road. WVU will face off against South Florida on Monday at 1:15 p.m. EST before facing off against Michigan State Tuesday at 11 a.m.
Junior guard KK Deans leads the Mountaineers in scoring with 16.5 points per game, good for eighth in the Big 12. In eight games on the season, she has also racked up 28 assists and 18 steals. Junior forward Esmery Martinez averages double figures for West Virginia as well at 11.8 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game.
WVU is eighth in the Big 12 in scoring, averaging 71.1 points per game, and leads the league in steals with 11.38 per game. The Mountaineers give up an average of just 55.5 points per game to opponents, compared to the Spartans’ 78.4 points per game and 65.9 points per game allowed on average for opponents.
The Spartans managed to overcome a 31-26 halftime deficit to snap a two-game losing streak with the team’s 75-60 win over Illinois on Thursday, Dec. 9 in Michigan State’s Big Ten home season opener.
Guard/forward Matilda Ekh became the first Spartan freshman this season to lead the team in scoring with a career-high 20 points on the night. Ekh earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors last week as a result of her performance, earning a Michigan State sweep of the honors in conjunction with men’s freshman guard Max Christie.
Ekh went 6-of-9 from three point range, also going a perfect 2-of-2 from the free throw line, while grabbing three rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. Clouden was second in scoring with 17 points, Alisia Smith added 13 points, and Taiyier Parks added 10 points to round out double-digit sorers.
Tamara Farquhar and Smith led the team on the glass with five boards apiece, DeeDee Hagemann led the team in assists (eight) and steals (three), and Clouden lead the team in drawing fouls with 10 committed against her, allowing her to go a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line.
Michigan State jumped out to an early lead, but Illinois seized the momentum to go on a 7-0 run and seize an 11-7 lead. Michigan State responded with an 8-0 run of its own, but Illinois ended the first quarter up 21-18. Both teams had a poor offensive showing in the second quarter, but MSU scored six of the team’s eight points early and the Illini finished the quarter on an 11-0 run to head into the locker room up 34-26.
The third quarter is when the game really got interesting with five lead changes causing a back-and-forth affair with Ekh and Clouden scoring 18 of MSU’s 26 points in the period. The Spartans outscored Illinois 26-17 overall and seized the lead 52-51 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter saw the Spartans finally pull away, outscoring the Illini 23-9 and forcing four turnovers. Overall, Michigan State rebounded from a poor 33.3 percent shooting effort from the field in the first half to shoot 68.8 percent in the second half. The win pushed MSU to 7-4 on the season (1-1 in Big Ten).