No. 22/23 Spartan Women Travel to Hartford Sunday

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EAST LANSING, Mich. - No. 23/22 Michigan State women’s basketball returns to the court after finals, traveling East to take on Hartford on Sunday, Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. The game is the first half of Great Lakes State doubleheader as the Hartford men’s team faces Oakland. The Spartans have won five-straight games to improve to 8-1 this season after defeating Oregon, 88-82 , at home on Dec. 9.

• Junior guard Taryn McCutcheon dished out her 400th career assist with eight helpers vs. Oregon. McCutcheon becomes the seventh Spartan women’s basketball player to reach the 400 assists plateau, including the fourth under Coach Merchant. McCutcheon is No. 7 on MSU’s career assists list, one shy of tying Brittney Thomas (2007-11) with 401.

• MSU is fifth in the nation and first in the Big Ten in assists to turnover ratio (1.55), as well as standing fifth in the country and second in the league in assists per game (21.9). Iowa is still first in the league, averaging 22.4 apg.

• Jenna Allen captured three honors last week, earning ESPNW and USBWA National Player of the Week ,as well as her first Big Ten Player of the Week accolade.

• Michigan State is 7-0 this season when having a lead with five minutes left, having won 181 of the last 191 games when leading with five minutes to go, including 132 of the last 142.

Ahead of Sunday’s contest, Hartford holds a 5-5 overall record for the season and is currently riding a three-game winning streak. The Hawks are undefeated at home this year sitting at 4-0 in Chase Arena. Michigan State is the third ranked opponent that Hartford will face this season, having lost to No. 24 Miami, 75-62, at the Preseason WNIT and No. 4-ranked Louisville, 86-69, at the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout in Las Vegas.

Junior guard Sierra DaCosta is Hartford’s top scoring threat averaging 15.0 points per game on .486 percent shooting. Joining DaCosta in double figures is senior guard Lindsey Abed at 14.4 points per game on .371 shooting from 3-point range. Abed is dangerous at the free-throw line shooting .923 percent. Boston College transfer Ella Awobajo is the team’s leading rebounder, hauling in 6.9 rebounds per game.

As a team, Hartford ranks No. 239 nationally in scoring offense (62.2) and No. 162 in scoring defense (63.6). The Hawks have had success in creating turnovers so far averaging 21.8 turnovers forced per game with ranks No. 31 in Division I. Their 114 total steals ranks No. 15 and their average of 11.4 per game is No. 39 in Division I.

This is the third meeting between MSU and Hartford. The series is split 1-1 with Hartford defeating Michigan State at home 54-51 in 2007. In 2006, MSU won the battle with a 58-45 win in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

The Spartans returned to the polls this weeks, standing No. 23 in the AP poll and tied for No. 22 in the WBCA Coaches’ poll. The last time that MSU was ranked was Nov. 21, 2016 when the Spartans were No. 23 in the AP poll and No. 19 in the Coaches’ poll.

Michigan State’s 88-82 upset of No. 3 was MSU’s first upset win over an AP Poll top 5 team since a 107-105 3OT victory over No. 5 Ohio State on Feb. 27, 2016. It was the Spartans’ biggest upset win since a 68-64 upset of No. 3 Tennessee on April 3, 2005 in the NCAA Tournament. It was the highest regular-season win since a 82-73 OT win over No. 3 Notre Dame on Dec. 2, 2004.

Michigan State is now 20-15 at home vs. ranked teams under head coach Suzy Merchant. The Spartans are 1-1 against ranked opponents this season after a 78-74 loss to No. 13 N.C. State on Nov. 22 in Cancun, Mexico.

Senior center Jenna Allen netted a season-high 27 points against Oregon on Dec. 9, which was one shy of her career-best. It was also her second 20+ point outing of the season and third of her career. Allen tied a career-high with three 3-pointers, matching three triples from at Notre Dame (12/16/17), which was also when her career-high of 28 points came. It was Allen’s fourth-straight double-figure scoring outing as part of her eighth in the nine games this season and 34th of her career.

Michigan State has shared the ball efficiently this season with five different players leading the team in assists through eight games. Taryn McCutcheon, Nia Clouden, Shay Colley, Victoria Gaines and Jenna Allen have each led the team in single-game assists. McCutcheon has reached the double-digit assists mark twice, tying her career-high of 12 against Bowling Green and dishing out 10 against Texas Southern. Clouden has also reached double-digits in 2018-19, making her mark against Virginia with 11 assists. As a team, the Spartans rank No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 5 nationally in assists per game with 21.9. McCutcheon ranks No. 1 in the conference and No. 12 in the country with 6.4 assists per game and Clouden is No. 6 in the league at 4.9 apg.

Junior guard Taryn McCutcheon netted 14 points against Oregon on Dec. 9 for her second double-figure game in a row and sixth of season as part of 26th of her career. The junior guard netted three 3-pointers, giving her eight treys in her last two games as part of her sixth game with three or more triples. With three 3-pointers on Dec. 9 McCutcheon now has 147 career treys, climbing to sole possession of the No. 7 spot on MSU’s career 3-pointer list, breaking a tie with Christine Powers (1991-95), and needing four to tied Victoria Lucas-Perry (2003-07) at No. 6 with 151 treys.

Michigan State senior center Jenna Allen added to her honors after being named U.S. Basketball Writers Association Ann Meyers Drysdale Women’s National Player of the Week on Tuesday. She also garnered ESPNW and Big Ten Player of the week accolades on Monday.

She is the second player to capture the honor this year after UConn’s Christyn Williams earned the season’s first award.

Allen averaged 21.5 points on 17-of-24 shooting (.708 percent), including a 5-of-8 performance (.625 percent) from beyond the arc over two games last week. For the season, Allen is averaging career-highs across the board with 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. She is shooting a career-best .579 percent from the field and .500 percent from 3-point range.

In an upset over No. 3-ranked Oregon on Dec. 9, Allen scored a season-high 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field in a career-high 37 minutes played. The Bedford, Indiana native was 3-of-4 from distance including a triple with 35 seconds left in regulation that all but sealed the game for the Spartans. Allen also hauled in a team-best seven rebounds in the winning effort.

Michigan State head women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant has been named the recipient of the 2018 ATHENA Leadership Award, as announced by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. Merchant was presented her award at a luncheon at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center on Dec. The ATHENA Award honors individuals who strive towards the highest levels of professional accomplishment, who excel in their chosen field, have devoted time and energy to their community, and who pave paths for other women to follow.

With eight assists against No. 3 Oregon, junior guard Taryn McCutcheon remains seventh in career helpers with 400 in just three seasons. She is just one assists shy from tying Brittney Thomas (2007-11) with 401. She is one of just seven Spartans to reach the 400-assist mark.

She is currently first in the Big Ten and No. 12 in the NCAA with 6.4 assists per game.

Michigan State’s 102 points at Oakland on Dec. 5 was a season-high and the first time topping the 100-point mark this season after 99 points in the season-opener vs. Bowling Green (11/6) as one of three games in the 90s . . . The 102 points was the most points scored since 109 in the wild and thrilling four OT 111-109 loss to Indiana in last season’s Big Ten Tournament on March 1, 2018 . . . It was the Spartans’ most in a regulation contest since 107 points against Charleston on Nov. 19, 2017 . . . The 102 points scored marks the 10th time the Spartans have reached triple digits under head coach Suzy Merchant, improving to 9-1 . . . Overall it is the 19th time in program history, improving to 17-2, however MSU is 16-0 in games hitting 100 in regulation, along with 1-2 in OT games.

The Spartans’ 57.6 percent (34-of-59) field goal shooting against Oregon was their fourth-straight game and fifth time this season shooting over 50 percent.

Michigan State was one of the six Big Ten teams to earn a victory in the 12th annual ACC/Big Ten Women’s Basketball Challenge, as the ACC won the Challenge, 8-6. MSU was joined in the win column by Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota. The Spartans’ 25-point margin of victory (91-66) was not only the largest margin of victory, but also the highest B1G score. Overall, it was the third-largest margin of victory in the challenge, behind Notre Dame’s 34-point margin in 105-71 win over Iowa and 29-point margin in Florida State’s 87-58 win over Penn State. MSU’s 91 points was the second-highest scored in the Challenge behind Notre Dame’s 105 points.

In ACC/B1G Challenge History
2018 - MSU 91, Virginia 66
2017 - Miami 67, MSU 57
2016 - Syracuse 75, MSU 64
2015 - Louisville 85, MSU 78
2014 - MSU 79, Georgia Tech 73 (OT)
2013 - Florida State 60, MSU 58
2012 - MSU 68, N.C. State 51
2011 - Miami 76, MSU 60
2010 - MSU 72, Florida State 64
2009 - MSU 72, North Carolina 66
2008 - Georgia Tech 57, MSU 50
2007 - MSU 68, Clemson 51
Bold = home games

The four points allowed in the first quarter against Virginia was the fewest this season. The fewest points MSU has allowed in a first quarter ever was two against Davidson on Nov. 11, 2016. Michigan State also held Kennesaw State to only six points in the second quarter on Nov. 23. That tied the least amount of points allowed by MSU in the second quarter. MSU also gave up only six points against Indiana on Dec. 28, 2017.

The Spartans freshmen trio of Kayla Belles, Nia Clouden and Tory Ozment have been solid early on for the Spartans. Clouden had a season-high 18 points in a win against Kennesaw State on Nov. 23. Clouden earned her first double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 assists against Virginia on Nov. 28. Belles in just her second game as a Spartan had 12 points and seven boards against UVa. Ozment has now scored in double-figure in four of the last five games, including a season-high 19 against UVa. During the Spartans’ five-game winning streak, all three freshmen are averaging 7.0 points per game or better. Ozment is second on the team in scoring over that five-game span, averaging 13.0 ppg, while Clouden is third on the team in scoring in the last four games at 12.8 ppg and Belles adds 7.0 ppg in the last five contests.

All-time, the Spartans are now 32-15 in season openers, but 24-2 when the opener is in East Lansing. Coach Merchant is 9-3 in season openers at MSU, and has won 15 of her last 18, including her time at Eastern Michigan.

This is the fifth time in the past seven years Michigan State has opened with wins in five of its first six games.

In Coach Merchant’s first 12 seasons, the Spartans are 76-31 (71.0%) following a loss.

The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 181 of their last 191 games (.948) when leading with five minutes left, including 132 of their last 143. In Coach Merchant’s tenure, Michigan State is 216-16 (.931) when holding a lead with five minutes left. This season, the Spartans are 7-0.

The Spartans improved to 178-97 (.647) all-time in the month of December. Under Coach Merchant, Michigan State is 61-27 (.693) in the 12th month of the calendar year. The Spartans have won 33 of their last 47 games in December, including 3-0 this season.

Junior guard Taryn McCutcheon is currently 12th in the nation and first in the Big Ten in assists, averaging 6.4 apg. She is also 52nd in the country and third in the conference in steals per game, averaging 2.7 spg. She has tied her career-high of five steals twice this season.

As a team, MSU is fifth in the NCAA and second in the B1G in assists per game, averaging 21.9. Iowa is first in the league with 22.4 apg. The Spartans are also sixth in the country and first in the Big Ten in scoring offense, netting 86.6 points per game, as well as ranking 16th in the league and second in the nation in scoring margin at +23.2. MSU also ranks 43rd in country and first in the Big Ten in steals per game made with 10.6 spg. Michigan State is fifth in the nation and tops in the league in 3-point field goal percentage, shooting 43.0 percent behind the arc.

In head coach Suzy Merchant’s tenure, when two numbers on the scoreboard were achieved it typically has been a sign of a MSU win. Overall, MSU has scored at least 70 points in all nine games this season. MSU has won 127 of its last 141 games when scoring at least 70 points, and MSU is 144-21 under head coach Suzy Merchant when hanging at least 70 points on the scoreboard. This year, MSU is 8-1 when scoring at least 70 with a loss to No. 13 NC State on Nov. 22.

The Big Ten continues to enjoy a strong composite start this year, having combined to post a .748 winning percentage (95-32) more than a month into the 2018-19 season. That mark includes eight non-conference wins against ranked opponents by seven different Big Ten programs, most recently when Michigan State toppled No. 3/3 Oregon, 88-82 on Sunday.

Six Big Ten schools are ranked or receiving votes in the current Associated Press or USA Today/WBCA polls, including four in the Top 25, led by No. 6 (AP)/No. 6 (USA Today) Maryland. Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan State are also ranked in both polls, with the Golden Gophers at No. 13/16, the Hawkeyes at No. 16/15 and the Spartans at No. 23/22. Indiana is receiving votes in both polls, while Michigan is earning votes in the USA Today poll.

Maryland and Minnesota are both still undefeated with matching 10-0 records. Indiana also still has a perfect mark, standing 9-0. The Spartans are the only one-loss squad, standing 8-1.

Redshirt-junior guard Shay Colley spent time overseas this summer playing for the Canadian National Team. Playing in Europe, Colley helped guide Canada to the quarterfinals of the FIBA Women’s World Cup.

Michigan State women’s basketball continues to pack the Breslin Center, finishing the 2017-18 season 10th in the nation and second in the Big Ten home attendance. The Spartans averaged 5,689 fans in 16 home games this season. MSU had a total of 91,026 fans pass through the gates. This is the 14th-straight season that the Spartans have been ranked in the top 15 nationally in attendance. MSU has had a total attendance of at least 80,000 since 2005-06.

Big Ten schools will be featured on national television at least 78 times during the 2018-19 season. BTN will televise at least 69 games and ESPN2 will carry nine contests. In addition, for the fifth consecutive year, every Big Ten women’s basketball conference game, including 126 regular-season contests and all 13 Big Ten Tournament games, will be produced and distributed by BTN, BTN Plus or an ESPN network. During the 2018-19 season at least 12 Michigan State women’s basketball games will be televised on either the ESPN2 or the Big Ten Network. MSU will also have seven regular-season home contests aired on BTN Plus.

To kickoff the beginning of Big Ten Women’s Basketball Media Week, the conference released the Preseason Coaches and Media Polls, in addition to the preseason All-Big Ten teams. Michigan State redshirt-junior guard Shay Colley was earned Preseason All-Big Ten honors by the coaches.

Maryland was voted to finish first in both the coaches and the media polls, while Iowa was picked second in both. In the coaches poll, Michigan was voted third, while Minnesota earned the third spot in the media poll. Reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Megan Gustafson of Iowa was voted Preseason Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media.

Last season, Colley led the Spartans in scoring and was 23rd in the Big Ten, averaging 12.4 points per game. Colley was also tied for eighth in assists with 4.3 apg. In her first season with the Spartans, the guard also ended the season tied for fifth in steals with 1.9 spg.

The Spartans have one more game before the holiday break. Michigan State will host Florida Atlantic on Thursday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m.

Jenna Allen scored 27 points - including a big 3-pointer in the final minute - and Michigan State handed No. 3 Oregon its first loss of the season, 88-82 on Sunday.

Up by three late in the fourth quarter, the Spartans (8-1) ran the shot clock down and got the ball to Allen, who sank a 3-pointer with 34.7 seconds left, then ran down the court with her arms outstretched, holding three fingers out with each hand.

Allen ended the game one-point shy of her career high with 27 points, adding seven rebounds to lead the Spartans. Junior guard Taryn McCutcheon scored 14 points with eight assists, while redshirt-sophomore forward Mardrekia Cook scored 12 to pace the Spartans. Michigan State’s bench was stellar against the Duck, providing 20 points.

Postgame Notes vs. Oregon
• Sunday was MSU’s first win over Oregon in the three meetings vs. the Ducks, having lost in 1992 and 2012, both in Eugene . . . The Spartans now have at least one win over nine of the 10 different Pac-12 teams they have faced, improving to 10-13 all-time vs. Pac-12 opponents with Sunday’s win, not having played Colorado or Washington State, and only losing once to Arizona State in the lone meeting vs. the Sun Devils.

• Michigan State’s 88 points is the seventh game this season in scoring 80+ points, and MSU has topped 70 in all nine games this year and are now 8-1 when scoring at least 70 . . . The Spartans have won 127 of their last 141 games when scoring at least 70 and are 144-21 under head coach Suzy Merchant when hanging 70 points on the scoreboard.

• Every MSU player to play Sunday scored, marking the second time this season in as many games that all the Spartans to play scored.
• Michigan State trailed by 12 points in the first quarter (16-4) and the 12-point rally is the biggest MSU deficit in a win this season, topping the previous deficit of nine points vs. ETSU (11/11/18).

Michigan State women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant announced the signing of five National Letters of Intent, including Julia Ayrault (Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan/Grosse Pointe North), Cydni Dodd (Indianapolis, Indiana/Warren Central), Moira Joiner (Saginaw, Michigan/Heritage), Taiyier Parks (Cleveland, Ohio/North Royalton) and Alyza Winston (Muskegon, Michigan/ Muskegon). The class was ranked No. 6 by ESPNW Hoop Gurlz as of Nov. 15.

Ayrault is a 6-2 guard who plays for head coach Gary Bennett at Grosse Pointe North High School in Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan and played AAU basketball for Rob Ruhstorfer and the Michigan Mystics. Ayrault is currently ranked No. 14 in her position and No. 75 overall by ESPN HoopGurlz. Last season, she averaged 19.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game and led Grosse Pointe North to the Class A Final Four. Ayrault set program records of scoring 497 points scored in a season.

Dodd is a 6-5 center who plays for head coach Stacy Mitchell at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, Indiana and AAU basketball for Danny Riego and the Indiana Gym Rats EYBL. She is currently ranked No. 14 in her position and No. 84 overall by ESPN HoopGurlz. As a junior, Dodd averaged 11.0 points, 6.6. rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game on 70 percent shooting from the field. Dodd was named to the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association Underclass Large School All-State team.

Joiner is a 5-10 guard who plays for head coach Vonnie Delong at Heritage High School in Saginaw, Michigan and played AAU basketball for Jeff Taylor and the Michigan Storm. She is ranked No. 13 in her position and No. 57 overall by ESPN HoopGurlz. Joiner is a three-time Associated Press All-State honoree. In 2018, she led Heritage to the Class A state championship, averaging 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 4.0 steals. Joiner was also named the Associated Press Class A Player of the Year. The three-time captain earned the Army National Guard Team award last season.

Parks is a 6-2 forward who plays for head coach Matt Stricker at North Royalton High School in North Royalton, Ohio and played AAU basketball for Andre Gault and the SMAC. She is ranked No. 11 in her position and No. 93 overall by ESPN HoopGurlz. As a junior, she averaged 19.0 points to go along with 16.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 3.0 blocks per game. She earned first-team All-Conference honors as both a freshman and a junior.

Winston is a 5-7 guard who plays for head coach Rodney Walker at Muskegon High School in Muskegon, Michigan, which is the same high school that produced current Spartan Mardrekia Cook. Winston also played AAU basketball for Monique Brown and Michigan Crossover EYBL. Winston is ranked No. 18 in her position and No. 70 overall by ESPN HoopGurlz. Last season, she led the Big Reds to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history. As a junior, she averaged 21.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists per game.