No. 17 Michigan State tramples Wolverines

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 8:56pm

EAST LANSING — If the Michigan women’s basketball team planned on being the “hardest-working team in America” — as the 2015-16 squad’s bold slogan goes — it first needed to be the hardest-working team in the state of Michigan.

Wednesday, that wasn’t the case, as No. 17 Michigan State dominated the in-state showdown and powered through the Wolverines, 85-64.

The 21-point defeat was Michigan’s worst loss of the season.

The hardest-working player at the Breslin Center wasn’t a Wolverine, but rather Spartan forward Akyah Taylor, who spent what seemed like half of the game on the hardwood, drawing charges and diving after loose balls wherever she could.

“We’ve had kids step up and get a little more focused,” said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant. “Some that is the insurgence of playing (Taylor) more in the starting lineup. I think she took four charges tonight. She is the glue that nobody really talks about.”

Taylor — who finished with four points, eight rebounds, four assists — wasn’t the Spartans’ leading scorer, but her gritty presence fired up Michigan State (8-2 Big Ten, 17-4 overall) for the team’s fifth straight win in the only matchup between the two schools this year.

Taylor stepped up to command the Spartans’ defense, but Michigan State guard Tori Jankoska also earned praise from Merchant. Jankoska bore the burden of guarding Michigan sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty.

“I thought (Jankoska’s) mindset was great,” Merchant said. “Coming in, she really wanted to challenge herself and guard Flaherty.”

Flaherty put up a team-high 18 points as well as four assists. Freshman guard Boogie Brozoski aided Michigan’s backcourt with 13 points, but at just 5-foot-6, she couldn’t help the Wolverines (4-7, 12-10) where they were struggling most. 

That location was under the basket, where the Spartans’ size gave them a huge advantage.

Michigan freshman center Hallie Thome, who averaged 14 points before Wednesday, had eight points and just four rebounds.

Michigan State outrebounded the Wolverines, 38-23. The leading rebounders were Taylor and Spartan forward Aerial Powers, who both had eight.

The matchup between the centers, Thome and Michigan State’s Jasmine Hines, wasn’t critical to the outcome, as the Spartans’ backcourt did everything its team needed.

The trio of Powers, Jankoska and guard Branndais Agee combined for 63 of Michigan State’s points.

“Powers played like the All-American she is,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She’s tough. I can’t wait ’til she graduates.”

Powers — who had a team-high 27 points — drove to the basket the entire first half and managed to get both Michigan senior forward Kelsey Mitchell and Thome in foul trouble early. And for every foul Michigan piled up, the Spartans capitalized.

Michigan State knocked down all of its 19 free-throw attempts.

The Wolverines still have yet to beat a ranked opponent this year, and their hopes of making the NCAA Tournament continue to dwindle.