The Michigan State Spartans women’s basketball team advanced as far as the semifinals in the 2021 Big Ten Tournament, but too many Spartans suffered injuries along the way to overcome a high-flying and No. 6 seed Iowa Hawkeyes squad late in the game to make it to the championship game. Iowa surged past the No. 7 seeded Spartans in the second half for the 87-72 win on Friday.
The first quarter was a back and forth affair with Michigan State taking an early 9-7 lead on a layup by Nia Clouden. Alisia Smith and Clouden combined for seven of MSU’s 24 first quarter points. Neither team was able to lead by more than four throughout the first quarter.
The large number of injuries among the Spartan roster resulted in heavier minutes for some players than normal, but the players rose to the challenge. With under three minutes left in the half and the score tied at 33, the Hawkeyes pulled ahead briefly off a basket by Sharon Goodman.
Mardrekia Cook’s jumper with 0:01.5 left gave Michigan State the lead 41-39. Somehow MSU managed to still commit a shooting foul on Iowa to let them head into the locker room at half trailing 41-40, however. A strong Spartan defense held Big Ten Freshman of the Year Caitlin Clark to just six points in the half.
Michigan State couldn’t contain a hot Iowa team in the second half, though. The Hawkeyes jumped out to a 51-46 lead despite Iowa’s Monika Czinano picking up her third foul early in the quarter. The Spartans responded with a 5-0 run of their own in a quarter that saw few runs by either team. With just six seconds left in the quarter, Iowa’s Clark drained a three-pointer to give the Hawkeyes a 64-57 advantage at the end of the third. Cook turned the ball over for MSU and Kate Martin for Iowa failed to convert a deep three attempt in the final moments.
In the fourth quarter, Iowa started to run away with it after back-to-back treys by Clark put the Hawkeyes up double digits, 77-62. Alyza Winston finally ended an Iowa 11-0 run with her first basket of the game. The basket sparked an MSU 7-0 run and cut Iowa’s lead to 77-69. Over the final minutes, though, a hot shooting Hawkeyes squad would outscore MSU 10-3 for the final score of 87-72.
Clouden was once again shooting like her normal self after a slump in the final games of the season. She led MSU with 24 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists. For the tournament, she averaged 24.0 points per game.
This was Clouden’s ninth 20-point game of the season and her second in a row. This marked the third time she has had back-to-back games of at least 20 points. Clouden moved up to No. 13 on the all-time MSU scoring list (1,265 career points), passing LyKendra Johnson 1,242) and Branndais Agee (1,250).
Freshman forward Kendall Bostic came up big for the Spartans, who were playing without guard Julia Ayrault and guard/forward Tory Ozment, scoring 13 points. Moira Joiner added 10 points as the only other Spartan to break double figures in scoring. Smith and Joiner led the team on the glass with eight boards apiece.
The Spartans were in their first semifinals appearance since 2017 and moved to 15-8 on the season overall. The team awaits their seeding announcement as they are solidly a lock on an NCAA Tournament bid at this point and will be one of seven Big Ten teams in the tournament field.
It will be the team’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2019 (the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled due to COVID-19). It will also mark Suzy Merchant’s 10th trip to the NCAA Tournament at the helm in East Lansing. The Spartans have not made it past the first weekend since 2009, however.