The No. 7 seeded Michigan State Spartans will face the No. 10 seed Penn State Nittany Lions tomorrow evening in the 28th-annual Big Ten Women’s Tournament. The game will be broadcast on FS2 and tips off at 6:30 p.m. EST at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Penn State finished the 2020-21 regular season at 9-14 overall with a 6-13 mark in league play. Despite the losing record and 11th place finish in the final Big Ten standings, PSU did manage wins over Ohio State (7th), Nebraska (9th), and Minnesota (10th). Besides that the Lady Lions’ wins on the year were over Purdue (12th), Illinois (13th), and Wisconsin (14th). Penn State lost its final three games and seven of the last eight.
The Spartans won the sole regular season matchup between the two programs on Saturday, Feb. 13 at the Bryce Jordan Center. Four players for MSU scored in double figures in the 78-65 win. Sophomore guard Jayla James and junior forward Alisia Smith both transferred out of Penn State after last season, and Smith scored 10 points against her former team in the matchup.
The Lady Lions finished ranked eighth in scoring offense at 72.8 points per game. PSU defensively is giving up just 76.1 points per game to opponents, which ranked 11th in the Big Ten. Penn State does excel at three-point field goal defense (.311), ranking third in the Big Ten. However, the Lions finished 10th in scoring margin (-3.30).
Freshman Maddie Burke was named the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year, as well as being tabbed to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, while Johnasia Cash and Makenna Marisa both garnered All-Big Ten accolades announced by the conference yesterday.
Cash leads the Lady Lions in three categories, averaging 14.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game. Cash ranks third in the Big Ten in rebounding and 11th in blocks, while also ranking 12th in field goal percentage (.475).
The game marks the 50th all-time meeting between the two programs with Penn State holding the overall series lead 30-20. The teams are 2-2 on a neutral court, however. The game marks the first matchup between the two programs in the Big Ten Tournament since the semifinals in 2013.
The programs have played four times in the conference tournament previously, with Penn State winning in the 1999 quarterfinals and 2004 semifinals. Michigan State won the 2005 and 2013 semifinals. This marks the first time the teams will face off on Wednesday of the tournament.
The winner of the game will advance to face the No. 2 seed Indiana Hoosiers on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. EST.
Noteworthy trends to keep an eye on include Nia Clouden having notched her third-straight season earning All-Big Ten distinctions. Clouden ended the regular season averaging 18.0 points per game, good for seventh in the Big Ten in scoring. She also finished 11th in the conference in assists with 4.2 per game, while finishing the regular season ranked 15th in steals with 1.7 per contest.
Clouden is the only Spartan to start all 20 games this season. She has a chance to finish the season as the first Spartans since Kris Emergson (1985-86) to lead the team in scoring, assists, and steals per game. Emerson finished the season with 16.9 points, 3.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game. She joined the 1,000 points club on Jan. 7, becoming the 29th player in MSU women’s basketball history to do so. Clouden currently sits at No. 18 on the MSU career scoring list, and is the seventh player in the past seven years to hit the century mark.
Junior guard Tory Ozment is seventh in the Big Ten in assist/turnover ratio (2.3), sophomore Julia Ayrault is sixth in blocks (1.2), and sophomore Alyza Winston is eighth in three-pointers made (1.9). The Spartans as a team are third in assists (17.9 apg), rank third in steals (9.0 spg), and are fourth in blocks (4.1 bpg). In conference games, Ozment is fifth in the Big Ten in assists/turnover ratio (2.6).
Smith has also been coming along strong in her short career with the Spartans. The senior forward transfer from Penn State posted her first double-double against Purdue on Feb. 21, scoring 18 and grabbing 10 boards. She had a career-high 19 points against Wisconsin in Madison on Jan. 24, and a career-high 12 rebounds again against Wisconsin, this time on March 6 in East Lansing. Overall on her career she has posted seven double-doubles, six at Penn State and one at MSU. She has played in 12 games so far for MSU.
Head coach Suzy Merchant also currently sits seven wins shy of her 500th career win in her 25th year as a head coach, and is six wins away from hitting her 300th win at Michigan State with a 294-154 mark at the helm in East Lansing during her 14 seasons.