Spartans cling to 74-71 win over Gophers

Aaron Blake

When coach Pam Borton and Minnesota’s women’s basketball team headed to Michigan State on Wednesday for Thursday’s game against the Spartans, they knew a tight game was in store.

The Spartans have played every other team close this season, and they hung around long enough to beat the 10th-ranked Gophers 74-71 in East Lansing, Mich.

Michigan State’s biggest lead of the game was its three-point advantage with 2.4 seconds left. Minnesota (15-2, 4-2 Big Ten) is now 0-2 on the road in the Big Ten.

It was the second victory for Michigan State (10-7, 3-3) over a top-10 team. The Spartans defeated then-No. 7 Purdue 67-62 on Jan. 6.

Michigan State put itself in a position to win by shutting down Lindsay Whalen, the nation’s sixth-leading scorer, and collecting 18 offensive rebounds.

A good portion of these came from 6-foot-4-inch sophomore center Kelli Roehrig, who finished the game with a career-high 27 points and five offensive rebounds.

Overall, Michigan State out-scored Minnesota 48-20 in the paint.

Meanwhile, Whalen finished with a season-low seven points on 2-for-9 shooting and turned the ball over six times. This came just four days after the Spartans held the nation’s fourth-leading scorer, Kelly Mazzante, to 14 points on 5-for-18 shooting in a near-miss 75-70 loss to Penn State.

“Every time (Whalen) would try to penetrate, they would have three people guarding her,” Minnesota’s Corrin Von Wald said. “It was a constant battle with that zone.”

The bright spot offensively for Minnesota was senior captain Von Wald, who scored 24 points and was 4-for-7 on three-pointers.

The Gophers led by as many as six points at two different junctures of the game – 22-16 and 65-59. But the Spartans stuck around just long enough to grab a 72-71 lead with 29 seconds remaining on two Kristin Haynie free throws.

Haynie was fouled by Von Wald, who was whistled while going for an offensive rebound.

The Gophers tried to get off the final shot of the game for the win, but Whalen lost the ball, and they were forced to foul Spartan Julie Pagel with 2.4 seconds remaining.

After Pagel hit both free throws in the one-and-one, Minnesota called timeout trailing 74-71. Sophomore center Janel McCarville was unable to get a good inbound pass to Whalen, who stepped out of bounds to give the Spartans the ball and the victory.

The first half was a virtual stalemate, including eight ties and seven lead changes. The Gophers went into the half with a slim 34-33 lead.

“It came down to not coming up with defensive stops in the last two-and-a-half minutes and the 18 offensive rebounds we allowed,” Borton said. “We haven’t been allowing as many offensive rebounds our past few games. But tonight it crept up on us.”

Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]