The IU women’s basketball team came dangerously close to falling victim to an unprecedented comeback attempt in its game at Michigan State on Saturday.
It all hinged on a late prayer of a three-point attempt from the Spartans.
But the basketball gods weren’t feeling generous. In fact, they were downright cruel.
With her team down 68-65 with four seconds to go, Michigan State senior guard Branndais Agee’s three-pointer somehow rimmed out after nearly being halfway down the net.
As Agee’s shot miraculously rolled out, Michigan State’s hopes of a comeback unraveled as well. It led to IU senior guard Tyra Buss hitting one of two free throws on the other end, securing a 69-65 Hoosier victory.
“We needed that last stop,” IU Coach Teri Moren said. “Although she got it off and it wasn’t a great look, it could’ve gone either way. Finally, something good happened for this group.”
In a first half performance that was the polar opposite of their first meeting with the Spartans on Dec. 28, IU put on an impeccable shooting performance.
The Hoosiers opened up by shooting 13-15 from the field and a perfect 7-7 from three-point range in the first quarter and didn’t slow down much in the second.
By halftime, IU held a 45-32 lead and was shooting 9-10 from behind the arc. Buss in particular was dominant in the first half as she went into the locker room with 21 points and shot 5-5 from three.
Her tenth point in the first half put her over 2,000 career points, making her the first women and just the sixth player in IU history to reach such a milestone.
“She was blistering hot in the first half,” Moren said. “She mentioned before that she had never won here in Lansing. Even last night when we were walking out of dinner, you could just tell she was ready.”
The whole team seemed ready as it was a far cry from their first match-up with Michigan State where they lost 68-46 to the Spartans at home and shot just 16-55 from the field and 6-22 from three.
However, despite shooting 0-10 from deep and trailing by as many as 26 points, the Spartans managed to battle back to keep things interesting moving forward after a 16-3 run to end the half.
Michigan State took that momentum into the second half where they continued to slowly chip away at IU’s lead. With IU finally starting to cool off from the field, the Spartans got back within single digits by the end of the third quarter and trailed 61-53 heading into the fourth.
After struggling from deep early on, Michigan State made it a point to attack the undersized Hoosiers in the paint.
Freshman forward Sidney Cooks opened the final quarter with six straight points to cut the IU lead down to 63-59 with nearly six minutes still to play.
IU picked up the defense from there as both teams went stagnant offensively and failed to take advantage of the few opportunities they had.
When IU freshman guard Jaelynn Penn nailed a corner three with two and a half minutes to go, the Hoosiers got their lead back up to six, but Michigan State would not go away.
After the Spartans had not hit a three-pointer the entire game and had not even attempted one in the second half up to that point, sophomore forward Victoria Gaines ended the dry spell by splashing home a three to answer Penn’s big shot.
It got Michigan State back within one possession with a minute to go.
After Agee’s late three fell incomplete, IU had avoided disaster and secured their second Big Ten win of the season and their first win in Lansing since the 2009-10 season.
“I’m just really proud of these guys,” Moren said. “They continued to keep fighting. We got a boost from our hot start in the first half but we also got some big stops.”
Despite being slowed down in the second half, Buss still led the way for the Hoosiers with 27 points.
Senior forward Amanda Cahill also had a big game with 17 points and nine rebounds while Penn joined them in double figures with 13 points of her own.
In one of their biggest wins of the season, Moren said she was just happy her team was able to find a way to win after a string of devastatingly close losses.
“I’m just really happy for this group,” Moren said. “We’ve been so close in a few games here of late and we just really found a way to win.”
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