MINNEAPOLIS — In her first game since unanimously being named to the All-Big Ten First Team, Mackenzie Holmes quickly set out to prove her selection as one of the conference’s best players. Starting on the first possession of Friday’s Big Ten quarterfinal game against 9-seed Michigan State, the star senior forward was Indiana women’s basketball’s main source of offense, scoring 27 points in the 94-85 win in Minneapolis.
Beginning with the opening tip, Holmes was a force to start the game. After winning the tipoff, she hustled down the floor and graduate guard Grace Berger — a fellow All-Big Ten First Team honoree — drove the lane to draw the defense before dumping it off to Holmes for the easy layup.
Although Holmes and the Hoosiers scored the first points of the game, any momentum they gained was quickly extinguished by a 13-2 Spartans run. The underdog Spartans were able to stifle Holmes inside and prevent any outside shooters from making an impact while lighting up the scoreboard from beyond the arc. Through the first 7:43 of the game — with the Spartans leading 15-6 — Holmes was still the only Hoosier to have registered a point.
While other Indiana players got on the board at the end of the first quarter and into the second, it was still Holmes leading the way, as she has done all season and throughout her career. Despite Holmes’ best efforts, however, Michigan State led by 12 points with under four minutes left in the first half.
“Obviously, we're not proud of how we came out in that first half — I don't think any of us are,” Holmes said after the game. “But the fact that we were able to weather the storm a little bit and keep our foot on the pedal, keep chipping away at the hole we dug ourselves, was really special.”
At the 3:58 mark in the second quarter, while fighting for position in the paint, Michigan State senior forward Taiyier Parks — who battled with Holmes in the post throughout the game — threw her hips into Indiana junior forward Kiandra Browne. The refs called the foul and Browne, who struggled with injuries and registered less than 10 minutes this season, fell to the ground in obvious pain.
After Browne was helped off the court, Indiana came back and went on a quick 9-0 run sparked by a pair of buckets from Holmes and entered the halftime break down by just 6 points. After the game, head coach Teri Moren said Browne would receive an X-ray and be further evaluated and that the injury served as a turning point in the game.
“I don't know if it was a rallying cry with K.B., but these kids are resilient, and this group really came together,” Moren said. “We love K.B., and this is a group that has — their chemistry has been off the charts. So certainly, there was probably some discussion of being worried but also wanting to take care of the business that we had in front of us.”
Coming out in the second half, Moren and the Hoosiers made adjustments and won the third quarter 25-18, led by none other than 9 points from Holmes. Even as the Spartans made defensive adjustments to better slow Holmes down, she continued to score effectively while also getting her teammates involved when the double-teams came.
As Holmes has done all season, she said that her effectiveness comes from just reading the defense and finding open shooters to kick the ball out to.
That effectiveness, however, was challenged when Holmes picked up her fourth foul with over seven minutes left and Indiana ahead by 7 points. With its best offensive weapon on the bench, Indiana had to rely on the rest of her teammates to step up and close out the game.
Those teammates delivered, leading Indiana to 35 fourth quarter points and hitting clutch free throws down the stretch to eliminate Michigan State and advance to the conference semifinals. Holmes returned and fouled out in the final minute, finishing with an efficient team-high 27 points on just 13 shot attempts, and Moren said the maturity and balance of the team allowed them to stay level-headed with their offensive leader sidelined.
“Our kids kept their composure, though — we were just trying to get to the finish line,” Moren said. “So, give our kids credit for just really keeping a cool mind out there when things did get a little funky down the stretch.”
With the win, Holmes and Co. advance to the Big Ten semifinals where they will face 4-seed Ohio State. The game will tip off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Target Center and will be televised on BTN.
Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.