South Bend, Ind. — Suzy Merchant was a floor general for the Central Michigan women’s basketball team from 1987-91, dishing out a program-record 463 assists.
Merchant owned that record for 28 years.
Then, a basketball player from little old Wayland, Mich., came to Mount Pleasant and took it away as a senior last Nov. 12.
In a cruel twist, however, it was Merchant, the 12th-year Michigan State head coach, who put an end to new record-holder Presley Hudson’s collegiate career over the weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
Hudson, after an 88-87 loss to Michigan State, finished her four-year Central Michigan career with 643 assists.
“I don’t even feel like she stole it, she blew it out of the water,” Merchant said. “She is a remarkable kid and a talent. I remember when she broke it, I sent her a nice tweet, because that’s an old record for sure.”
Walking off the court Saturday was a tear-filled Hudson.
Along with breaking the assist record, she set the program's all-time scoring record with 2,309 points. (More than any men's player, too.) Hudson’s ability to score the basketball stood out most to Merchant.
“I don’t think I scored 2,000 points going back to when I started playing basketball in fourth grade,” Merchant said.
“Not only does she score the ball, she makes other people better.”
Hudson, of course, was a central focal point for Michigan State's defense.
Still, the 5-foot-6 guard still scored 20 points, including a key 3-point late in the game. She was 8-for-14 shooting, and had seven rebounds and five assists in the loss.
Watching Hudson reminded Merchant of her days as a Chippewa, which was something that once tested her as a youthful coach.
“I have a lot of respect for her,” Hudson said before the game. “She's a great coach."
Merchant was head coach at Eastern Michigan for nine seasons before coming to East Lansing. Since the Eagles play in the Mid-American Conference, she made at least one trip per year to Mount Pleasant to coach against her alma mater.
Those games were some of the toughest events in Merchant’s field of work.
“What was harder, when I was coaching there, was walking into that arena where I spent four years at,” she said. “Coaching against them a couple times a year, that’s had a different kind of feel. I was thankful that I had the opportunity to be at Eastern Michigan, so I knew what it was like to go against my alma mater.”
Saturday's game was the first time Michigan State and Central Michigan had played in Merchant's tenure. It also was the first time they played in Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara's tenure in Mount Pleasant. Guevara is a former Michigan State assistant.
After the game, Merchant said her concern with playing Central had nothing to do with her old school, rather everything to do with Guevara’s success.
“Our kids had the utmost respect for them,” Merchant said of the Chippewas, who, led by Hudson and Reyna Frost, made back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, including an historic run to the Sweet 16 a year ago. “We felt it was a huge game for us”
When Guevara and Merchant shook hands following Michigan State's win, Guevara had a question for Merchant.
“You sure you don’t want to do this more often?”
“Not a chance."
NO. 1 NOTRE DAME VS. NO. 9 MICHIGAN STATE
Tip-off: 7 Monday, South Bend, Ind.
Records: Notre Dame 31-3; Michigan State 21-11
Evan Petzold is a freelance writer.