'Really proud': In women's NCAA Tournament thriller, MSU slips past CMU
South Bend, Ind. — Michigan State redshirt junior guard Shay Colley caught the ball on the wing and attacked toward the basket. She went up-and-under as Presley Hudson tried to stop her layup. But Colley found the bottom of the net.
Her layup with 7.6 seconds left lifted Michigan State to an 88-87 victory over Central Michigan in the opening round of the women's NCAA Tournament.
On Central Michigan's last possession, sophomore guard Micaela Kelly's jumper was off the mark.
The Spartans (21-11) advanced to play No. 1 seed Notre Dame on Monday at Joyce Center.
“I’m just really proud of this group,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “We’ve had some really great moments and we’ve struggled at times. To see them come together, I thought they were really committed on both sides of the ball.”
The Chippewas’ season ends at 25-8, a year after they made the Sweet 16.
Colley scored 13 points on 6-of-16 shooting, adding seven rebounds and six assists. Junior guard Taryn McCutchen was a lethal 4-of-8 from 3-point range and scored 12. Senior center Jenna Allen logged 10 points, five rebounds and three assists.
“Coach trusted me to make that last play, and I did,” Colley said.
Early in the game, when Michigan State threw punches at Central Michigan, it was senior forward Reyna Frost who punched back harder.
Frost, the Mid-American Conference player of the year, finished with 34 points on 16-of-27 shooting from the field, adding seven rebounds and two assists. Micaela Kelly had 24 points, and Hudson scored 20.
Frost and Hudson, both seniors, will go down as perhaps the best duo in program history.
“We just didn’t have an answer,” Central ichigan coach Sue Guevara. “We didn’t have an answer inside. I will tell you, my heart couldn’t be happier with the effort we gave.”
The Spartans opened the game 4-of-5 from 3-point range, thanks to junior guard Taryn McCutcheon’s back-to-back triples five minutes in to give Michigan State a 19-8 edge.
Straight out of the ensuing media timeout, she hit another one to go up 21-11.
“She had to lock in on Presley, obviously,” Merchant said. “Sometimes when Taryn really locks in on somebody, all of her intent, energy and focus go one way.
"To see her play both sides of the ball gave our team confidence.”
With its backs against the wall early, Central Michigan was carried by Frost.
With 3.7 seconds were left in the first quarter, she went after the ball on a poor pass, collected herself and scored while drawing a foul. She threw a fist pump in celebration as the Chippewas were inching back into the game. Of Central's 20 points in the opening frame, Frost accounted for 15.
Frost did more of the same in the second quarter, and her ability to score inside opened the court for other players. One of them was Kyra Bussell. When Michigan State defenders crashed on Frost, the ball was kicked out to Bussell for a 3-pointer to trim Central's deficit to one point, 35-34, with 4:49 remaining before halftime.
Once down by double digits, Frost single-handedly put Central Michigan in front, 38-37, but it wasn’t enough, as the Spartans stormed back to go up 43-40 at the break on two straight buckets from forward Sidney Cooks.
Despite Michigan State's narrow edge, Frost was the focal point of the first half. She threw in 25 points while making 12 of 18 attempts from the field, on pace for a 50-point game. Coming into the game, Frost’s career high was 39 points on Feb. 23 against Northern Illinois.
“I was surprised at how poorly of a job we did on her,” Merchant said of Frost. “She was the heart and soul, and we had no answer for her.
"I thought we did a better job in the second half of deterring the ball from going in there.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers from McCutcheon and Cooks put the Spartans back up by double digits and forced Guevara to burn a timeout less than two minutes into the second half.
Kelly dropped in 14 points for the Chippewas in the third quarter alone, and she began to handle the offense on her own.
Hudson, as she seems to always do in clutch moments, appeared out of nowhere to drill a 3-pointer. It was just what the Chippewas needed for a 75-74 lead with 5:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.
A 3-pointer and layup from Frost, who scored nine points in the second half, seemed to be enough, but it wasn’t as Michigan State answered every call, eventually taking an 86-84 lead with 32.7 seconds remaining on a layup from Cooks.
Hudson answered back on a 3-pointer with 20.3 seconds left.
Then, on the final bucket, Colley sent the Spartans to the second round with the winning layup.
Advancing in the NCAA Tournament means a matchup against Notre Dame. The teams met Dec. 6, 2017, early in Notre Dame's championship season, and the Spartans fell to the Fighting Irish, 90-59.
“Yeah, they got us good here,” Merchant said. “We’re just going to stay and celebrate this one. We’re looking forward to a chance to go at them.”
“I think anything can happen.”
NO. 1 NOTRE DAME VS. NO. 9 MICHIGAN STATE
Tip-off: TBA Monday, South Bend, Ind.
Records: Notre Dame 31-3; Michigan State 21-11
Evan Petzold is a freelance writer.