MSU dominates OSU to reach Big Ten tourney final

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Ohio State's Cait Craft tries to get to the basket against Michigan State's Akyah Taylor (45) during the first half.

Indianapolis — It wasn’t much of a rematch.

Michigan State made sure of that, coming out aggressively to dominate No. 2 seed Ohio State, 82-63, Saturday afternoon in a Big Ten women’s basketball tournament semifinal at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

With the win, the Spartans — 24-7 and the No. 3 seed — will play No. 5 Maryland for the Big Ten tournament title Sunday night. It will be their first conference title game appearance since winning the championship in 2005, the same year they advanced to the national title game.

The big question coming in was what was Ohio State sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell going to do after scoring a school-record 48 in last Saturday’s 107-105 triple-overtime loss to Michigan State, preventing the Buckeyes from a share of the Big Ten regular-season title?

And, for that matter was what Mitchell going to do for an encore after setting a Big Ten tournament record in Friday’s quarterfinal win over Rutgers, scoring 43?

Well, Michigan State- was ready to slow down Mitchell and the Buckeyes (24-7), showing the triple-overtime win was no fluke.

And, MSU 6-foot junior Aerial Powers came out and made a statement early, making sure no second-half comeback was needed like it was in the 65-64 quarterfinal win over Purdue.

No doubt, the Spartans had their best half of the season in taking a 44-20 halftime lead, shooting 56 percent from the field, making 6-of-11 3-pointers and holding a 25-14 rebounding advantage.

“Well, obviously it was nice to come out of the gates as strong as we did,” MSU coach Suzy Merchant said. “Ohio State’s a very powerful offense. Going into the game we weren’t sure about Ameryst (Alston) and we just want to wish her the best. I hate to see anybody go down, especially when they are a senior. It was a tough loss for them because she’s a very, very good player. I give her a lot of credit for even trying to get out there for her team.

“I thought our kids really came out of the gates and these two (Powers, Tori Jankoska) really set the tone early, put pressure on them, handling their pressure in the back of the press, and I felt defensively we did a much better job of extending on Kelsey than we did on the first time. Maybe the combination of those things and our stops obviously led to transition offense so we were able to get off to a good start.”

OSU senior Ameryst Alston (19.2 ppg), a two-time All-Big Ten first-team guard, tried to play with a right hand injury suffered late in Friday’s win over Rutgers, but proved ineffective. She scored 23 in a win over the Spartans the first time the teams met in early January.

With Alston out, the Spartans could concentrate more on stopping Mitchell and Jankoska got the job done with a lot of help defense from her teammates. Mitchell was limited to 20 points — six under her average — on 4-of-18 shooting, 2-of-10 from 3-point range.

It was Powers who stole the spotlight from Mitchell. Powers finished with 31 points and 12 rebounds, making 12-of-19 shots, including 4-of-7 on 3-pointers.

“Anytime you have a scorer that’s down or hurt it’s obviously going to help your team tremendously when it comes to the defensive end,” Powers said. “I don’t know what she (Alston) averages, but tonight she didn’t score anything (in 10 minutes)."

Powers scored and in bunches. She scored 10 first-quarter points, making two 3-pointers, connecting on a baseline jumper and blowing by her defender, scoring on a driving layup after faking a 3-pointer to help the Spartans lead 18-12 after one.

Then, Jankoska (23 points, eight rebounds, six assists) got into the act … and she needed to after getting benched at times in the quarterfinal and having Merchant say, “She’s better than what she’s playing. She needs to process what she sees too and not be defined by a jump shot.”

Well, Jankoska responded to the benching, coming out and attacking the basket for a layup and 14-6 lead midway through the first quarter to find Merchant clapping.

Merchant then pumped both fists in the air as Jankoska knocked down a 3-pointer for a 25-16 lead.

Then, Jankoska scored in transition after Mitchell missed a 3-pointer.

Little did the fans know it at the time, but Jankoska’s 3-pointer and transition basket started a 22-4 run to end the first half and open a 24-point lead.

And, multiple Spartans contributed during the run when they made four 3-pointers — two by Jankoska and one apiece from Powers and Lexi Gussert — and had inside baskets from post players Jasmine Hines and Jenna Allen.

Jankoska got things done at the defensive end as well, limiting Mitchell to eight first-half points (3-of-9 shooting, 2-of-7 on 3-pointers) with help from her teammates who jumped in for double-teams to make life miserable for her, giving little room to operate.

Now, Powers is looking forward to seeing how the Spartans measure up to a Maryland team that has advanced to the Final Four the last two years.

“They are a great team and a big challenge for us,” Powers said. “It will show us kind of where we place in the NCAA Tournament because they always go far. As a championship game, it would be nice to win one, especially under Coach Suzy. I think I will be up all night thinking about it.”

Maryland defeated MSU, 85-76, in the lone meeting between the teams Feb. 5.