After a thrilling double overtime loss to Penn State, forward Justine Raterman summed up Dayton University's position on the national landscape simply.
"I think we need to play with a chip on our shoulder this year, we have a target on our back this year and we have to recognize that," said Raterman.
Although Raterman was not necessarily referring to Michigan State when she made her comment, the Spartans certainly made her words more concrete with their 74-62 win over Dayton last night.
After last year’s humbling defeat to Dayton, you could tell from the outset that Michigan State was playing for much more than just winning a game - they were playing for redemption, for pride, and atonement.
The game was definitely a target for Michigan State.
"I’ll tell you this, I think when we played down there (in Dayton), they out hustled us on the boards, no question," said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant. "They were coming from every angle, we couldn’t keep them off the glass, they just outplayed us and we felt pretty strongly that couldn’t happen here.
"The last time we played them one year ago, they out scrapped us, outworked us, outhustled us. We were not going to let that happen on our floor."
The atmosphere at the Breslin Center was ardent and intense and you could see it from the 4,162 fans that were in attendance.
The players and coaches from Michigan State said that they wanted to beat Dayton badly and with every turnover, blocked shot, three pointer, there was such jubilation from everyone involved with Michigan State. The passion that Michigan State exuded matched that of an important conference game that they knew they needed to win.
Michigan State definitely had last year’s loss to Dayton on their mind and vowed make up for that loss with their play.
"Redemption, I really think was the biggest key," said Kalisha Keane. "Going down there losing and just hearing the response that happened after that game, how we weren’t known to play hard, that really sparked me up, I took it as a personal offense and challenge from last year and really wanted to come out and prove that here at Michigan State, that we do play hard."
"Going down there being ranked, it was their first opener, it was a big charge up game and they came out and played harder than us, and they stuck it to us and beat us, we couldn’t allow that to happen two years in a row."
Early on, it was like a boxing match as both teams took each other’s best shot. From layups, steals, and three pointers, you had it all. Neither team seemed to be able to get into any kind of consistent flow at all.
With that being said, the 1st half performances of MSU's Keane and Dayton’s Raterman showed that the two stars were going to prevent their opponents from pulling away. Keane shot an astounding 86% from the field and hit both of her three pointers to finish the half with 14 points. Not to be outdone, Raterman scored 10 points of her 13 points in the first half.
After halftime, you could just see the intensity from Michigan State go to another level as they didn’t want a repeat of last year to come to fruition. It was almost as if the Lady Spartans understood that if they allowed Dayton to keep the game close like last year, a repeat of that same outcome could happen again. They became more physical, going after every loose ball, putting a lot of pressure on Dayton’s perimeter players, essentially taking the fight to Dayton because you could tell by the physiology of the Michigan State players that the loss that was handed to them by Dayton last year really frustrated them.
"I honestly don’t know - I thought we practiced well. I’m very disappointed in our toughness, our mental toughness, our physical toughness," said Dayton coach Jim Jabir. "Defensively, we screwed up so many times. Just, we weren’t where we needed to be, we gave up too many three’s, they went 9-19 again, we got outrebounded again, we didn’t execute offensively, we had so many opportunities to get back into the game, every time we had an opportunity and we didn’t take care of the ball, it’s just very disappointing."
The momentum of the game turned for good in Michigan State’s direction with the stellar performance of Michigan State’s 6’3" freshman guard, Annalise Pickrel late in the second half. After a very candid talk with her coach at halftime, it seemed as if the freshman had a purpose in the second half with her demeanor as well as her tremendous play.
With Dayton only down by 6 at the 5:30 mark and still having the game within reach, Pickrel seemingly takes the game over. In a span of about 2 minutes, she scores 5 consecutive points, one three pointer and a nice back to basket move that would have made NBA center Dwight Howard proud. Then she comes up with a huge blocked shot and from that point on, Dayton was not able to recover.
"[After Lykendra Johnson fouled out] now it’s my turn, I have five minutes left in the game, what am I going to do?" said Pickrel. "I was thinking at the free throw line where we were, I can’t just participate in the last 5 minutes - we got to pull ahead, I got to be one of the active, I have to do something, that was kind of my mindset."
Clearly, this was not the start Dayton planned on but this game can be a lesson that they have to know that teams are treating them as one of the top teams in the country and that teams are taking them very seriously. Coach Jabir was visibly upset after the game because he knows that the one thing his team is known for is fighting and outworking people, so the question is how will the team respond to the growing target on their back and how will they pick up their intensity?
"When we were coming up and no one knew anything about us, we always wanted to be the hardest working team," said Jabir. "And that’s been the mentality that we’ve had and I’m just disappointed, whether we have a target on our back or not, we can control what we do on the floor and we didn’t control it today and we took a shot from them and we didn’t respond well to it and that’s disappointing."
Top Performers’ from Michigan State:
1. Kalisha Keane, 23 points, 7-12 from the field (58%)
2. Cetera Washington, 13 points, 3 blocked shots
3. Annalise Pickrel, 9 points off the bench, 5 rebounds, 3 blocked shots (all in the second half).
Top Performers from Dayton:
1. Brittany Wilson, 16 points, 6-10 from the field (60%)
2. Justine Raterman, 13 points
3. Elle Queen, 10 points
Important Stat of the night:
- Michigan State shot 47% from the three point line with 9-19 shooting while Dayton shot only 23% with 3-13 shooting