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Big Ten championship hopes fizzle quickly as Michigan State stuns Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS -- A second half with miscues on offense, crucial turnovers, and missed free throws ultimately cost the Hoosiers a chance to accomplish their goal of winning the Big Ten Tournament this year.

The Hoosiers were stunned by the 7th seed Michigan State Spartans 69-61, and will now await Monday night to find out their opponent in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Head coach Teri Moren and company are not pleased with Thursday's performance. 

“We’re disappointed in the outcome,” Moren said. “We didn’t have an answer for (Nia) Clouden in the second half, and we had Nicole (Cardaño-Hillary) in foul trouble. I thought [Michigan State] stepped up and hit some timely shots, and at times I thought their energy level was better than ours.”

Grace Berger. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

Despite the loss, the Hoosiers' Big Three did not disappoint. Grace Berger led all Hoosiers in scoring with 19 points, and Mackenzie Holmes was not far behind with 17. Ali Patberg came alive at the end, as she finished with 12 points and also added six assists. Having Nicole Cardaño-Hillary in foul trouble really hurt the Hoosiers, as the dynamic MSU guard duo of Alyza Winston and Nia Clouden got going offensively as soon as Cardaño-Hillary came out of the game. 

Both teams started out slowly from the field, as there were just five combined points in the opening four minutes. But the Hoosiers would soon figure things out thanks to some big stops on the defensive end. Cardaño-Hillary was able to deflect some Spartan passes and gain some extra offensive possessions. And IU seemed to have found its scoring, with Holmes in the point and Berger driving to the basket combining for nine  first-quarter points.

As the first quarter winded down, the Hoosiers forced Michigan State into more and more difficult shots. IU held Clouden, the Spartans’ star player, to zero first-quarter points and only allowed her to take one shot. The Hoosier defense also forced seven first-quarter MSU turnovers. Considering the Spartans average 14 turnovers per game on the year, making MSU uncomfortable on the defensive end was a priority for Moren’s team.

Berger was doing it all offensively early on in the second. With her slashing ability and a lethal mid-range shot, the Spartans could not figure out an answer to stop her. As they tried focusing more defenders on her, this opened up room for Aleksa Gulbe and Holmes to do what they do best — score the ball inside. However, some missed free throws throughout the half cost the Hoosiers to not extend their lead.

With the defense continuing to look great, the transition opportunities opened up thanks to some great passing on the break. And when not in transition, the Hoosiers kept finding Holmes down low. With her variety of post moves, Holmes was able to get to the basket with ease and extend the Hoosier lead to eight at the end of the first half. Moren said the team could have done more to build the lead on MSU.

Teri Moren. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

“In the first half I feel like we left the door too wide open,” Moren said. “We missed too many layups and too many free throws. There were times that our spacing was not very good, and I thought they did a good job with Mackenzie in the second half, making things a little bit more difficult.”

Clouden wasted no time getting started at the beginning of the third quarter, as she had a quick eight points less than three minutes into the half. All of the sudden, the eight-point Hoosier lead turned into a one-point Spartan advantage. Cardaño-Hillary in foul trouble didn’t make things any easier, as Winston also found her shot down the stretch in the third.

The Hoosiers' inability to make shots and turnovers in the third hurt their momentum severely. With only 11 points in the third, the Hoosiers needed to find some sort of scoring besides Holmes and Berger. 

An 8-2 start for the Spartans in the fourth put the Hoosiers in their largest deficit of the game. Being down nine, IU needed a spark to come back, and got that with Ali Patberg. Scoring baskets and making plays for her teammates, Patberg helped the Hoosiers  come back right into the game. However, a couple of late 3s for the Spartans were able to put the game to rest and stun the second-seeded Hoosiers 69-61.

This ends the hopes for Indiana to win the Big Ten title the team has been chasing all year. IU will wait until Monday night in order to find its seeding in the NCAA tournament that will be played in San Antonio.

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