MSU's Suzy Merchant misses Selection Show waiting in drive-thru line for COVID-19 test

Tony Paul Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

All season long, Michigan State women's coach Suzy Merchant and her assistants have preached to their players to roll with the punches and be able to pivot at a moment's notice. You know, all those great coaching cliches.

Well, on Monday night, Merchant had to heed her own advice.

Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant

Rather than watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on campus with her players, Merchant was waiting in line, 40 cars deep, at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in East Lansing. She learned shortly before the 7 p.m. Selection Show that a saliva test, taken Saturday following the team's run in the Big Ten tournament, had been rejected. So she was told to rush to the local drive-thru, which was to close at 8, for an up-the-nose swab, needing to secure a negative result before traveling with her team to Texas for this week's start of the NCAA Tournament.

"The one time you really don't want to be rejected," Merchant said, with a laugh, over the phone with The News on Monday night, while waiting in line at the old Sears in Frandor, west of campus. "I have to miss the moment.

"You just have to smile and be like, 'Whatever.'"

All players and coaches have to test negative before traveling to Texas, where the entire NCAA Tournament will be held in the San Antonio area. Michigan State hadn't finalized its departure time yet; it was either going to be Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

Once players and coaches arrive in Texas, they must test negative again — and be quarantined in their hotel until those tests results arrive.

As Merchant waited in line Monday, Michigan State (15-8) was announced as a No. 10 seed, and will play No. 7 Iowa State (16-10) at 6 next Monday night in a game televised by ESPN. Merchant finally was able to get tested shortly before 8, and then headed back to campus to break down film.

It's the 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 seasons for Merchant at MSU.

"We get to play, especially in the time where nothing's guaranteed," junior guard Nia Clouden said after the Selection Show. "So, the opportunity to play in the tournament this year is even more special considering what happened last year with the tournament being canceled, and just how our season went last year. We probably wouldn't have made it, but this year is even more special.

"We get opportunity to play for a championship. The circumstances are different but it's still the same opportunity and we're thankful to be able to participate."

Merchant felt the same way as her players considering all the hoops everyone has had to jump through in order to play this season.

"We were just talking about this," Merchant told The News earlier Monday. "I always said this day is so special, but this year, I feel like this day is like Christmas Day for basketball players and coaches, because so much has been sacrificed to get this point.

"There's been so much mental and physical exhaustion just to get to this point.

"We're gonna enjoy it."

Iowa State closed out the regular season winning their last four of five games, including a 85-68 win over then-No. 18 West Virginia. The Cyclones also had a win over Baylor on their resume, ending a 61-game home winning streak for Baylor in the process. Iowa State went 12-6 in the Big 12 Conference, the third straight season of 10 or more wins.

Junior Ashley Joens averages 23.6 points and earned first-team all-Big 12 honors.

"I know they have some really good players on a team," Michigan State senior Mardrekia Cook said. "Ashley is one. She's an incredible player. I actually saw them play Iowa earlier in the season and they're a great team. I think it is gonna be a great matchup. I'm super excited about the game."

The women's NCAA Tournament got a jolt earlier Monday when legendary Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma tested positive and announced he will miss his top-seeded Huskies' opening games.

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No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 7 Iowa State

Tip-off: 6 Monday, Alamodome, San Antonio


Records: Michigan State 15-8; Iowa State 16-10

Scouting Michigan State: Head coach — Suzy Merchant, 14th season, 296-155; Leaders — Points, Nia Clouden, 18.8; Rebounds, Alisia Smith, 6.5; Assists, Clouden 4

Scouting Iowa State: Head coach — Bill Fennelly, 26th season, 539-283. Leaders — Points, Ashley Joens, 23.6; Rebounds, Joens, 9.2; Assists, Emily Ryan, 5.7

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

Twitter: @mattcharboneau