March 1, 2009
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Redshirt junior Lauren Aitch hit a 15-foot jumper with one second remaining to lift the Michigan State women's basketball team past Purdue, 57-55, in a thrilling regular-season finale Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 7,278 in the Breslin Center.
The win clinched the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament for the Spartans, who close league play with a 13-5 record and improve to 20-9 overall. It marks MSU's sixth-straight season with at least 20 victories and gives the program its best conference finish since 2005.
Junior Allyssa DeHaan led the Spartans with 16 points and six rebounds, while Aitch and sophomore Kalisha Keane each chipped in nine points. Mia Johnson, MSU's lone senior, stepped up on Senior Day, tying her season high with six assists to go along with seven points. Aisha Jefferson tied her career high with five steals and also scored six points.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, featuring six ties and eight lead changes, but MSU's clutch shooting proved to be the difference down the stretch. The Spartans shot 59.1-percent from the field in the second half and made their last 10 shots of the game.
The shooting streak started when MSU was facing its largest deficit of the day, down 42-36 with 10:14 to play. Keane got the ball rolling on a layup at the 9:03 mark. Purdue (20-9, 13-5) followed with a basket, but Jefferson answered with a layup and Keane hit a 3-pointer and a jumper to put MSU back on top, 45-44, capping a 9-2 run.
Purdue responded with two straight baskets to make it 48-45, but a layup by redshirt freshman Lykendra Johnson and a jumper by DeHaan pushed the advantage back to the Spartans with 4:31 left. Mia Johnson made it 51-48 in favor of MSU after hit a floating jumper in the paint as the shot clock expired.
DeHaan connected on two straight jumpers to extend MSU's lead to 55-51 with 1:35 remaining. Purdue fought back, however, as Brittany Rayburn made four consecutive free throws to tie the game at 55 with 23 seconds left. MSU called a timeout with 19 seconds remaining, and drew up a play for DeHaan. With DeHaan double-teamed in the post and time running down, Lykendra Johnson found a wide-open Aitch on the right-side elbow, who buried the jumper before time expired.
"I know we've had some adversity but we found a way," said MSU head coach Suzy Merchant. "I thought that we did a great job defensively. We had some great shots and rebounds. We had some good things happen for us and we made them happen as well.
"We were not going to go down without putting our gloves on and swinging. I have seen us fight and I believed we could do it. I think that the kids really believed that they could do it too."
In the first half, the Spartans were in control early. After a slow scoring first five minutes and the game tied at six, MSU built a lead as large as nine points on an Aitch layup at the 8:05 mark. The Spartans continued to lead by seven at 25-18 after two Courtney Schiffauer free throws. Purdue went on an 8-2 run over the final three minutes of the half to close the Spartan lead to 27-26.
The win gives MSU a season sweep over Purdue for only the second time in series history and for the first time since the 1983-84 season. The Spartans defeated the Boilermakers 68-60 in overtime on Jan. 1 in West Lafayette, Ind.
Michigan State will play either Wisconsin or Northwestern in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday, March 6 at 11:30 a.m.
NOTES: The 13 Big Ten wins ties for the second most in program history ... When DeHaan leads MSU in scoring, they are 11-0 this season and 16-1 when she reaches double-digits ... With six rebounds, DeHaan moved into seventh place on the MSU all-time list with 703 ... MSU is 16-1 when holding its opponent under 60 points ... The Spartans are 10-1 when shooting over 43% from the floor ... MSU is 14-1 when attempting more free throws than the opposition ... The Spartans are 10-0 when hitting more 3-pointers and 16-1 with a better 3-point field goal percentage than the opponent ... Michigan State is 14-2 when scoring first and 18-2 when leading at the half.