It seemed fitting that in the last home game of her career, the senior would do anything and everything humanly possible to muster a much-needed win.
But in the end, it was the freshman, playing only seven minutes, whose shot led to an overtime victory for Minnesota (10-17, 3-13 Big Ten) on Sunday.
Freshman Lyndsay Lieser had already been warned by her teammate, senior Erin Olson, that Minnesota would need her to hit a big three-pointer to win. The freshman responded, taking a pass from Olson and drilling the clutch trey that gave the Gophers the lead for good in their 75-71 overtime thriller over Michigan State (17-10, 8-8) at the Sports Pavilion.
It was just her second field-goal attempt of the game.
“I told her at half, coming back on to the court, ‘You’re going to have to hit a three to win,'” Olson said. “And she did.”
The win snapped a 24-game Big Ten losing streak at home for Minnesota, dating back to Feb. 2, 1997.
Lieser’s shot came after the Spartans built a 67-63 lead in overtime, thanks to free throws by both junior Becky Cummings and senior Maxann Reese. The Gophers cut the lead to two points on a jumper by junior Brandy Pickens and took the lead at 68-67 when Olson made an off-balance layup, was fouled and rattled in her free throw. She finished with 18 points and 12 assists.
Olson wouldn’t let Minnesota falter in the second half. She scored 16 points, including five in overtime. She played all but one minute of the game and went 8-of-8 at the free-throw line.
“We have this thing with (Olson) and Superwoman,” Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. “Tonight, she had to wear her cape real big.”
Michigan State went back on top on senior Kristen Rasmussen’s basket with 1:58 remaining in overtime, ending a Spartans drought of over eight minutes without a field goal. Rasmussen led all scorers with 26 points and added 14 rebounds.
The Gophers answered on a jumper from freshman Kim Prince, who finished with 13 bench points. It gave the lead back to Minnesota at 70-69. Prince and sophomore Kim Bell gave Littlejohn more minutes than normal after senior Moneeke Bowden fouled out of her last home game with 10:33 left in the second half.
But Michigan State would not go away. The Spartans converted 6-of-7 free throws in overtime, including two more by Reese, who gave Michigan State a 71-70 lead with 1:31 to go in overtime.
Then Lieser checked into the game.
The freshman had already given Minnesota extra life. She sank two free throws to tie the game at 63 with 48 seconds left in regulation. Suddenly, all eyes were on her to come up big in overtime.
“I didn’t think about missing. I knew I was going to hit it,” she said of her game-winning three-pointer.
While Lieser might be young, Olson knows the freshman can hit important shots.
“If the game is on the line and she’s in the open corner, she’s going to knock that down every time,” Olson said.
Then, justifying her senior co-captain’s faith, Lieser buried her second trey of the game, along with the Spartans, who dropped their seventh Big Ten road game.
Olson sealed the win with two free throws, putting Minnesota ahead by four with 15 seconds left in overtime. After freshman Vnemina Reese was whistled for the Spartans’ ninth traveling violation, the celebration began.
Sophomore Cassie VanderHeyden contributed five three-pointers for Minnesota, including four in the first half.
The Gophers led 31-26 at the break but trailed most of the second half. They took advantage of Michigan State’s shooting woes, going on a 12-4 run in the last 5:40 of regulation.
Minnesota will face Wisconsin on Thursday in the first round of the conference tournament in Indianapolis.