Senior guard Leigha Brown checked into the game early in the first quarter and quickly scored a layup and a 3-pointer with two of her first three shots of the game. Brown picked up right where she left off in yesterday’s fourth quarter — on fire.
The twelfth-ranked Wolverines (7-0 overall) ultimately beat Mississippi State (5-1), 64-48. A strong second half showing helped the Wolverines pull away and finish the Daytona Beach Invitational with a pair of wins.
Before Brown — who started on the bench again — subbed into the game, Michigan was struggling offensively. Mississippi State started the game on a 6-0 run that finally ended when senior forward Naz Hillmon got fouled and hit a free throw.
Brown then came into the game and sparked an offensive run that resulted in her scoring eight points in the first quarter, en route to a 17-15 lead for the Wolverines.
“I think that I still have some room for improvement. Obviously, I’m still kind of rusty, you know, finishing and finding my shot inside,” Brown said. “But my teammates instill confidence in me, obviously. You get that confidence by getting reps and getting experience on the court.”
Michigan’s grit and determination kept it in a game where it couldn’t make a shot early on. The Wolverines shot a meager 30% from the field in the first quarter but still managed to score with a quantity over quality approach to their shooting. Michigan snagged nine offensive rebounds in the first quarter which led to 10 crucial second chance points.
The Wolverine’s offensive woes continued in the first half as they only made four field goals in the second quarter. Only two Wolverines, Hillmon and Brown, scored in the quarter. Both players were aggressive in attacking the basket and got to the free throw line, though. They shot a combined 6-for-6 from the charity stripe in the second quarter and managed to keep Michigan’s lead afloat heading into the half.
“We’re a different team with Leigha. She’s one of the best guards in the country,” coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “It was nice to have her this weekend. She’s a difference maker.”
The Wolverines left their sub-par offense in the first half, catching fire in the third quarter. The hot streak started as junior guard Maddie Nolan took aim from deep early in the third quarter and found the mark.
A few possessions later Hillmon caught the ball in the post and put up a layup that missed the mark. She snatched her own miss over the Bulldog defenders and put it right back up, sinking it. Hillmon’s second chance points capped off an early 7-0 run for Michigan in the third quarter.
Michigan’s offensive run continued throughout the second half. The Wolverines finished the third quarter strong — on a 6-0 run that included buckets from Hillmon, senior forward Emily Kiser and freshman guard Laila Phelia — outscoring Mississippi State, 18-10.
A mid-range jumper from Brown put Michigan up 13, it’s largest lead of the game at the time, a minute into the fourth quarter. After Brown’s shot found the basket, the Wolverines lead appeared to be slipping away.
Mississippi State’s star Rickea Johnson hit a jump shot and a pair of free throws in back to back possessions. The Beavers then made a pair of layups and suddenly Michigan’s lead had been cut to just five.
The Wolverine offense hadn’t cooled down yet, though. Naz Hillmon scored an easy bucket in the paint to halt Mississippi State’s run. Leigha Brown took over from there, scoring seven of Michigan’s next nine points and slamming the door shut on the Mississippi State comeback that had been formulating.
“We did a really good job of finishing games out,” Barnes Arico said. “In both games we finished exceptionally strong in the fourth quarter. I thought that was a really good sign.”