Ann Arbor — Michigan State junior point guard Kiana Johnson took the floor against Michigan on Sunday afternoon at the Crisler Center with an upset stomach, but it was the Wolverines who left the arena with a sick feeling after the Spartans’ 79-72 victory.
Johnson, a 5-foot-7 junior, scored 12 of her 14 points during the second half when she also had all of her four assists to get MSU’s transition game going. She had just one turnover in 38 minutes and also took a charge in the final minutes.
“She really was amazing down the stretch there,” said MSU coach Suzy Merchant of Johnson. “She took that charge, had a couple of steals, knocked down free throws, got some shots. It was really kind of a catalyst for us to pull away.
“She had a little bit of an upset stomach today, so I was a little bit concerned about her, but I thought in the second half she had a commanding presence, ran the team, did a nice job defensively.”
The Spartans (11-5, 3-0) took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with the win. They also avenged a loss to Michigan the last time the teams played at Crisler last February, ending Michigan State’s 12-game winning streak in the rivalry.
Senior forward Annalise Pickrell had 16 points and six rebounds for Michigan State and sophomore guard Aerial Powers added 13 points and seven rebounds.
Michigan State never trailed in the first half, building a 20-11 lead. The Spartans led 26-17 before Michigan’s 6-3 junior Cyesha Goree scored nine points during an 11-2 run to end the half to pull the Wolverines (11-5, 2-1) even at 28-28 before an announced crowd of 4,510.
“My teammates were looking for me and I was able to finish to give us a nice spark heading into the half,” said Goree, who finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Madison Ristovski made a 3-pointer and Goree scored inside to pull the Wolverines even at 65-65 before Michigan State junior Becca Mills (12 points), playing with four fouls, scored consecutive baskets to pull the Spartans up for good at 69-65 with 1:20 left.
“Becca kind of gave me the thumbs up, like ‘I can do it,’ and to her credit she was able to do it,” said Merchant of Mills playing effectively with four fouls. “Becca’s been playing well. She’s got a very high motor for a big kid so she can really play through fatigue, and you saw that with being able to go to her late.”
Mills’ consecutive baskets started the game-ending 14-7 run.
Still, in the end it was Johnson’s ability to push the ball up the floor which made the difference. The Spartans held a 10-2 advantage in transition points and a 17-4 edge in points off of turnovers.
“They really ran in transition very well on us,” said Michigan junior guard Nicole Elmblad, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds. “We would score and they would be right back up on us, and for some reason we weren’t getting back in transition as well as we could and I think that may have been a little bit of a difference-maker at times.
“She (Johnson) seemed to really have a response every time we made a basket. I remember a couple of times she came down and hit a tough runner and it was pretty good defense. She answered for them.”
Freshman Siera Thompson scored 16 for Michigan.
Williams debuts in rivalry
It was a long, long journey for Madison Williams to finally get a chance to play for the Spartans in the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry.
Williams, who was sidelined the previous three seasons due to knee injuries each year, entered the game with 14:55 left in the first half with the Spartans holding a 7-5 lead.
Williams, a 6-foot-7 redshirt junior, helped the Spartans to a 9-4 run during the next 4½ minutes, scoring a basket and grabbing a rebound to help open a 16-9 lead.
Williams’ next stretch didn’t fare as well with the Spartans failing to protect their 23-15 lead during the final five minutes of the half.
In fact, Goree scored nine, including a basket around Williams and a putback over her to turn a 26-17 deficit into a 28-28 deadlock at halftime.
Williams did not return in the second half.
Michigan State had already received a commitment from the state’s top player, Lexi Gussert of Crystal Falls Forest Park, prior to the season. Gussert, a 6-foot senior, picked the Spartans over Connecticut, Tennessee and Purdue.
Now, the Spartans learned over the weekend they will have Benton Harbor star point guard Kalabrya Gondrezick playing for them in the near future, too. Gondrezick, a junior, was ranked No. 9 in The Detroit News’ preseason rankings.
Gondrezick’s younger sister Kysre, a sophomore, was ranked No. 2 behind Gussert, and has already scored 40 or more points twice this season.