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Spartans Face NC State in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Sophomore Becca Mills and the Spartans are 3-2 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Nov. 28, 2012

Michigan State (5-0) at NC State (5-2)
2012 ACC/Big Ten Challenge
 Date | Time Thursday, Nov. 29 | 7 p.m.
 Location Raleigh, N.C. | Reynolds Coliseum
 Internet Coverage Watch
 Radio WJIM 1240AM | Spartan Sports Network (Listen Live)
 Radio (Mobile) Broadcast available on Spartan Sports Network Mobile App: iPhone/iPad | Android
 Game Notes Michigan State | NC State
 Statistics Michigan State | NC State
 Video Suzy Merchant Show - Episode 3
 Social Media @MSU_WBasketball   |  Facebook

The Wolfpack are 5-2 on the season, and are coming off a 1-2 weekend at the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout in Las Vegas. They sandwiched a win over Arizona State, with losses to Florida and Northern Iowa; each game was within four points. NC State is 13th in the nation, scoring 80.1 points per game, led by 17.7 points from Kody Burke, who also leads the team with 8.9 rebounds. Marissa Kastanek is second with 13.7 points, while Markeisha Gatling averages 11.6 points. The Wolfpack is sixth nationally with a +15.0 rebound margin.

NC State went 19-16 last season and advanced to the second round of the WNIT. The Wolfpack returned five of their top six scorers from last season, including leading scorer Marissa Kastanek, who was an honorable mention All-ACC selection.

Michigan State and NC State meet for just the second time. MSU won the first meeting, 58-57 on April 2, 2008 in the WNIT semifinals in East Lansing.

The Spartans are 3-2 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Michigan State's record is the second-best among Big Ten schools in the Challenge (Michigan 4-1). MSU topped Clemson, 68-51 in East Lansing in 2007, lost at Georgia Tech, 70-57, in 2008, knocked off No. 4 North Carolina, 72-66 in 2009, won at No. 14 Florida State,72-64 in 2010, and lost 76-60 to No. 9 Miami at Breslin last season. The ACC won the first four Challenges, but last season the conferences split 6-6.

The Spartans have begun the 2012-13 season with a 5-0 record. It is just the fifth time in program history that Michigan State has won its first five games - 2008-09, 1999-00, 1984-85, 1983-84.

The Spartans are 92-34 (73.0%) all-time in the month of November. Under Coach Merchant, Michigan State is 31-7 (81.6%) in November, with four of the seven losses coming against top-10 opponents. Also, MSU is 17-1 (94.4%) at Breslin Center in November under Merchant and 50-9 (84.7%) all-time in the opening month at Breslin.

- Michigan State opened with the game's first seven points, and 15 of the first 17, and never trailed.
- Jasmine Thomas led the Spartans with 14 points (6-for-7 from the field), eight assists and five steals, tying a career high.
- Annalise Pickrel added 11 points, knocking down 3-of-6 from behind the arc, while Courtney Schiffauer had a season-high 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds.
- In the first half, MSU held Robert Morris to 12 points on 13.6% (3-for-22) shooting from the field.
- The Spartan defense forced 21 turnovers, and held the Colonials to 25.5% shooting from the field and 15.4% (2-for-13) from behind the arc. MSU also had a 46-to-26 edge on the glass.
- The Spartans held Robert Morris' leading scorer Artemis Spanou (18.5 ppg) to eight points on 2-for-11 shooting.
- Branndais Agee made her first appearance of the season, after missing the first four games due to injury.
- It was the first meeting between MSU and Robert Morris.

The key to the Spartan success so far this season as been their ability to defend. Michigan State has held each of its opponents below 50 points, allowing only 37.4 points per game, which leads the nation. The 187 points that MSU has allowed in its first five games are the third fewest all-time to begin the season, and the fewest since the addition of the 3-point line in 1987-88. The two lowest marks happened in the first two seasons - 172 in 1973-74 and 177 in 1972-73.

MSU has held four of its first five opponents below 40 points. It already ties for the second most game under 40 points in a season, trailing only the 1973-74 team (nine times). Entering this season, the Spartans had only held 32 opponents under 40 points in the first 1,124 games of the program.

Against Virginia Tech (Nov. 18) and Albany (Nov. 21), Michigan State allowed only 64 points combined. The total tied the sixth-fewest allowed in back-to-back games in program history. The five lowest totals were all during the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons.

Over Coach Merchant's first five seasons in East Lansing, the Spartans have struggled with turnovers, averaging 17.6 per game. However, early on in the 2012-13 season, Michigan State has turned the ball over only 12.2 times a game, which leads the Big Ten and is fifth in the country. In addition, the Spartans are tied for the conference lead in turnover margin (+6.4) and 29th nationally.

The Spartans ability to distribute the ball joined with their low turnover numbers, put them atop the Big Ten and sixth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4). The starting backcourt of Jasmine Thomas, Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel have led the way, combining for 59 assists compared to only 21 turnovers (2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio), while each averaging over 32 minutes a game. Over her last four games, Thomas has a 4.5 assist-to-turnover ratio (27 assists, six turnovers), while Pickrel has yet to commit a turnover this season in 162 minutes of action.

Growing up in East Lansing and being named Michigan's Miss Basketball as a high school senior, brought about high expectations for Klarissa Bell. However, through her first 48 games as a Spartan, she struggled to find a role and a spot on the floor. Bell averaged just 2.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 10.2 minutes during that time. However, she was inserted in the starting lineup on Jan. 29 (vs. Penn State) and started the final 11 games last year. As a starter, including the first five games this year, Bell is averaging 10.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 32.3 minutes.

So far this season, Bell has stepped up as the team's offensive leader, leading the team with 15.2 points, ranking 14th in the Big Ten. She also ranks among the top-15 in the conference in minutes (fourth, 35.6), assist-to-turnover ratio (seventh, 1.8), field goal percentage (ninth, 54.4%), assists (10th, 4.0) and steals (13th, 1.8).

Bell has increased her scoring 11.1 points from last season (4.1 ppg in 2011-12), which is currently the best improvement in Spartan history and the largest increase from last year among Big Ten scorers.

Bell set career highs in points in each of the first two games, pouring in 19 points vs. UT Arlington and 20 at Eastern Michigan on Thursday. In the opener vs. UTA, became the first Spartan in over 11 years (Kristen Rasmussen at Cincinnati on March 18, 2000 - 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists) to reach at least 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a game, and also the first MSU player to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists in the same game since Lykendra Johnson vs. Ohio State on Feb. 23, 2011.

An uncertain role for her senior season awaited Jasmine Thomas as the 2011-12 season came to a close. Thomas was replaced as the starting point guard by Kiana Johnson by the end of the season, and managed to average only 5.0 points and 1.8 assists, while shooting 33.9% from the field, in 21.4 minutes. However, a nine-game suspension for Johnson to begin this season, opened the door for Thomas to step up as the team's leader in her final season.

Thomas has done just that on both ends of the floor, ranking second on the team with 11.8 points, having scored in double figures in all five games, while leading the team with 5.8 assists and 2.8 steals. She ranks fourth in Big Ten and 25th in the nation in assists, while placing fifth in the conference in steals. Turnovers had been an issue for Thomas, maintaining a negative assist-to-turnover ratio over her first three seasons (160 assists, 183 turnovers), but this season, she is fourth in the league and 24th in the nation with a 2.9 a:to margin. More impressively, over the last four games, she has 27 assists and just six turnovers (4.5 a:to).

Junior Annalise Pickrel got her first career start in the opener vs. UT Arlington, and has proved in the first five games that she belongs in that role. The 6-3 forward is averaging 11.2 points, including a career high 18 points in the opener, while dishing out 2.0 assists per game, without committing a turnover.

More importantly, Pickrel has become a threat from behind the 3-point line. She is 14-for-31 (.452) from 3-point so far this season, after making only 19 in her first two seasons (59 games) and shooting 30.2%. Her 2.8 3-pointers a game is fourth in the Big Ten and 44th in the nation, while her 3-point field goal percentage is eighth in the conference. With the graduation of three seniors, and the early season suspension of Kiana Johnson, the Spartans needed someone to step up from behind the arc. Those four accounted for 70.0% of MSU's made 3-pointers in 2011-12.

Sophomore Jasmine Hines came to East Lansing as Michigan's high school career points and rebounds record holder. Thrust into a large role than expected as a freshman due to Madison Williams' season-ending injury, Hines was productive when she was on the floor. In only 10.3 minutes per game, she averaged 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds, while shooting a team-best 54.2%. If you pro-rated her production over 40 minutes, she would have averaged 19.8 points and 9.7 rebounds.

Again a season-ending injury to Williams will increase her playing time this season. In the first five regular season games, Hines is averaging 10.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in 20.6 minutes, while shooting 56.1% from the field, which is fourth in the Big Ten. MSU is 7-0 when she reaches double-digit points in her career.

The first NCAA statistical report came out on Monday, and the Spartans are among the national leaders in many statistical categories. Michigan State leads the country in points allowed with 37.4 per game, ahead of the rest of the nation by 6.4 points per game (Connecticut, 43.8). The Spartans are also second in field goal percentage defense (28.2%), fifth in fewest turnovers (12.2) and fewest fouls (11.6), sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.38) and eighth in scoring margin (+29.6).

2012-13 CAPTAINS
The Spartans will have three captains again this season, as seniors Courtney Schiffauer and Jasmine Thomas, and junior Klarissa Bell will hold the honor in 2012-13. Schiffauer was also a tri-captain last season.

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. When the Spartans have scored at least 70 points, their record is 52-4 (92.9%), including winning their last 35 games, while when they hold opponents to 60 points or less, their record is 93-8 (92.1%).

Michigan State led the Big Ten for the third time in four seasons in rebound margin (+6.3), which was 22nd in the nation. The Spartans have been top-40 in the country in rebound margin each of the last four seasons, getting as low as ninth nationally in 2010-11. This season, MSU is second in the Big Ten and 35th in the nation with a +9.2 rebound margin. MSU has out-rebounded 52 of its last 63 opponents.

The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 61 of their last 62 games when leading with five minutes left, including an 18-1 mark last season and a 5-0 record so far in 2012-13. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 103-5 (95.4%) when holding a lead with five minutes left.

A common theme between Michigan State's wins and losses last season was its ability to get to the free throw line. In the wins, MSU shot 395 free throws (19.8 a game), in comparison to 13.5 a game in the losses (162 total). In its 20 wins, MSU is +66 in free throw attempts (+3.3 a game), while -98 (-8.2) in the 12 losses.

MSU has shot 36 more free throws than its opponent (78-to-42) over the first five games this season. The Spartans have been 48-5 (90.6%) over the last four seasons when attempting more free throws than their opponent, including a 5-0 record this season and a 12-3 mark last season.

Michigan State is 11-4 all-time on Nov. 29.



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