Michigan State women's basketball

© Melanie Maxwell, Detroit Free Press

Michigan State women’s basketball turns to balanced attack

Michigan State women’s basketball won’t be relying on a single player but will rather have a balanced attack this season.

The Michigan State women’s basketball team wrapped up their season-opening five game home stand with a fifth straight blowout win over Florida A&M.

The level of dominance displayed by State was to be expected given the level of competition — MSU hosted Delaware State, Fort Wayne, Western Michigan, Oakland, and FAMU — but what the Spartans have shown in the early season is a fast, physical, exciting style of play that should translate against tougher competition in the Big Ten. 

Whether they’ll admit it or not, the Spartan women’s squad came into this season with an identity crisis. Gone is Nia Clouden, who averaged 20 points per game last season on her way to becoming the second-leading scorer in school history. The prolific 5-foot-9 guard was selected 12th overall in the WNBA draft by the Connecticut Sun. 

Through five games, it’s clear that Spartans’ head coach Suzy Merchant will not be relying on any one player to replace Clouden’s production. Instead, a collection of faces both new and known are looking to be key contributors in a balanced offensive attack.

Ball movement has been the emphasis in the early season, with just two Spartans scoring in double figures per game but nine players scoring over five points per game. 

Michigan State will look for much of their offense from behind the three-point line this season, led by sophomore guard/forward Matilda Ekh. The sweet-shooting Swede sits fourth in the nation with 16 3-pointers this season, doing so at an efficient 45 percent clip. Also a threat from downtown is sophomore point guard DeeDee Hagemann, looking to fill the big shoes of Nia Clouden as the Spartans’ starting floor general. The Detroit native is shooting 50 percent from the field and 8-of-14 from deep while pacing the starting lineup with 20 assists on the year. 

Freshman Theryn Hallock, Hagemann’s backup at the point, looks like she will be a big contributor in her debut season for the green and white. Hallock leads the team with 22 assists, and is scoring 7.4 points per game while hitting nearly 70 percent of her shots. Though the game looks a little fast for Hallock at times — she has committed a team-high 14 turnovers —  she’s a tough, incisive defender who will make running the offense challenging for other Big Ten backup point guards. 

Kamaria McDaniel is another new face that looks to be a big part of Merchant’s plans this season. The graduate guard transferred from Baylor this offseason, but she is no stranger to the Big Ten. The Michigan-born McDaniel played two years at Penn State before her two at Baylor, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors when she scored nearly 20 points per game for the Lady Lions in 2019-20. McDaniel is a proven three-level scorer whose wealth of experience looks like it will pay huge dividends on a team full of youth. She’s stirred the pot on offense with her ability to get to the rim and finish through contact, as she’s first on the team and seventh in the country with 31 free throw attempts so far this season. 

Another transfer that will start for the Spartans is junior guard Gabby Elliott, a native of Detroit, who transferred to MSU this offseason from Clemson. In addition to her defense — she’s averaging two steals per game — Elliott is another three-level scorer who has given the Spartans 8.8 points per game on nearly 60 percent efficiency thus far. The 5-foot-10 guard is the second-leading rebounder on the team right now, a testament to the effort she plays with in all phases of the game. 

In the post for the Spartans will be a combination of senior Taiyier Parks backed up by sophomore Isaline Alexander. Both have rebounded well and scored efficiently in the post against overmatched competition early on. The Spartan forwards are both shooting right around 60 percent, doing most of their work on offense within three feet of the bucket. Alexander leads the team with six blocks. 

Suzy Merchant’s team has one more tune-up game on Saturday at Central Michigan before they will head out to Portland, Ore., for their first test of the year against No. 7 Iowa State in the Phil Knight Invitational Tournament.

The Spartans will open Big Ten play at the Breslin Center on Dec. 5 against Purdue.