Michigan State's women's basketball team got healthy a little too late to enjoy another trip to the NCAA Tournament.
But the Spartans can still salvage a frustrating season – and are off to a fine start, with an 81-75 victory over Cincinnati in the first round of the WNIT at Breslin Center on Thursday night.
Sophomore guard Taryn McCutcheon had 19 points and redshirt senior guard Branndais Agee (Detroit Cass Tech) had 10 points and 10 rebounds as the Spartans (18-13) earned their first postseason victory since the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Senior forward Taya Reimer had 16 points and junior center Jenna Allen 15.
"We're really excited about this opportunity because we're still playing," Reimer told reporters after the game. "Still get to be together as a team. We do have something to prove.
"We're using this opportunity to end on a high note."
The Spartans will host another game, at 7 Monday night, against the winner of Friday night's Toledo-Wright State game in Toledo.
Michigan State jumped out to a 10-point lead after the first quarter and hung on, despite a late charge by Cincinnati (19-13), which scored the final nine points of the game.
The Spartans made eight of nine shots during a game-changing stretch in the third quarter to take a 65-47 lead. They had 25 assists on 33 made shots and outscored Cincinnati, 44-18, in the paint in improving to 12-4 all-time in WNIT games.
It was Michigan State's first game in two weeks.
"I was a little concerned about the rust," coach Suzy Merchant said afterward. "It was good to see them get back out there."
Reserve Genesis Parker scored 30 on 10-for-12 shooting for the Bearcats.
The Spartans, decimated by injuries for much of the regular season, are in the WNIT for the first time since Merchant's first season as head coach, in 2007-08. That year, Michigan State finished runner-up. The Spartans had been in the NCAA Tournament eight of the nine previous seasons.
Rival Michigan won the WNIT last season, and is playing its NCAA Tournament opener Friday night against Northern Colorado.
In other second-tier postseason tournaments, the Central Michigan men beat Wofford, 98-94, on the road Friday to advance to next week's CIT quarterfinals. Sophomore David DiLeo scored 22 to lead the Chippewas (21-14), while sophomore Kevin McKay added 21 points off the bench. The next game date and opponent still were to be determined as of Friday night. Wofford finished 21-13.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Michigan men (22-12) visit Sam Houston State (19-14) at 7:30 on Monday, also in the CIT.