MSU women’s basketball gets revenge on Minnesota, pushes Spartans closer to a tournament bid

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Parker Beavens

EAST LANSING – The Michigan State women’s basketball team took another step towards returning to the NCAA Tournament with their 76-65 win over Minnesota on Monday evening. The victory moves MSU to 17-5 overall and 7-4 in Big Ten play, including four straight wins.

“That’s [the NCAA Tournament] a target for our team,” MSU Head Coach Robyn Fralick said.

The win came on the back of a dominant first-half performance by the Spartans that had them up 23 at the break. MSU hit nine three-pointers and Minnesota only made a third of its shots, creating a recipe for a large lead. In their last meeting against the Gophers, the Spartans had 50 points all game and lost by 19. They had 47 at halftime this time.

“This was definitely a revenge game,” graduate Mo Joiner said. “[The prior meeting]was the worst we’ve played all year.”

Minnesota was able to make the game competitive during the second half. They found some footing offensively and Michigan State’s offensive barrage from the first two quarters was stifled. The Gophers outscored the Spartans in the second half 41-29.

“There are no easy wins in this league,” Fralick pointed out.

Despite the sluggish second half, the 23-point hole proved to be too deep for Minnesota once Joiner hit a dagger three to make the lead 11 in the final minute. She ended the game with 21 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals.

“Mo was clutch,” Fralick said. “It felt like every single time we really needed a basket, she got one.”

The win is another blow to Minnesota’s March Madness hopes. The Gophers have now dropped four straight and are firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. ESPN’s “Bracketology” listed them as the first team out of the tournament before Monday. They also recently lost leading scorer Mara Braun indefinitely to a foot injury on Jan. 28.

Graduate Janay Sanders has started in her place the last two games and had a 23-point outing tonight.

“I have a lot of respect for Sanders,” Spartan sophomore guard Theyrn Hallock said. “She obviously had to get those points because they’re down one of their best players.”

Hallock had a solid outing off the bench for MSU. She logged just under 30 minutes and handed in 10 points, three rebounds, and three steals.

Graduate Julia Ayrault had 16 points, 13 coming in the first half, with seven rebounds and four blocks.

The win serves as another boost towards the tournament, but this “doesn’t mean work’s done yet,” according to Joiner.

MSU has failed to make the tournament the last two seasons. This win also means Michigan State now will have its highest win total since at least the 2018-19 season, and there are eight games left in the regular season.

Fralick, in her first year in East Lansing, is seeking her first appearance in March Madness. She has plenty of postseason experience. Fralick won a Division II national championship at Ashland, reached the title game the next year, and reached the semifinals of the WNIT at Bowling Green last season. The Falcons did reach the Mid-American Conference title game with a chance at an auto-bid once under Fralick but fell to Central Michigan.

The Spartans shift their attention to two big games. MSU goes on the road to face No. 14 Indiana on Thursday and hosts No. 5 Ohio State on Sunday. Both games are big opportunities for Michigan State to bolster their resume for March.