EAST LANSING — Down two guards to injury and facing an in-state rival on the road in a hostile environment, the No. 18 Michigan women’s basketball team looked in all directions for someone to pick up the slack in the guards’ absence.
The answer? Senior guard Maddie Nolan.
Nolan was instrumental in the Wolverines’ erasure of their midpoint deficit, finishing the game with 22 points on 50% shooting. Twenty-two marks a new career high for the senior guard, who scored all of her points from behind the 3-point arc and at the free-throw line. Nolan’s prowess from deep continues to fuel the Michigan offense, and proved crucial in the comeback effort on Sunday.
Everything that could go wrong did for the Wolverines early in Sunday’s matchup. Michigan State jumped out to a 10-point lead before Michigan could even score a point.
In that stretch, Nolan missed two shots — one from deep — as the Spartans silenced the Wolverines’ offense. But each miss was shortly forgotten, as she finished the quarter as the leading scorer on either team with eight points.
“All of us on the team and the coaching staff tell Maddie every day to shoot the ball,” fifth-year wing Leigha Brown said postgame. “Sometimes we have to really get on her to even put it up there. But I think we all have the utmost confidence in her that when she shoots it, it’s going in.”
Nolan’s willingness to keep shooting proved to be game-altering for Michigan and crippling for Michigan State. Over the game’s final three quarters, she missed just two field goals. Furthermore, her efficiency forced the Spartans to adjust their defensive scheme — creating opportunities elsewhere for the Wolverines’ offense.
“I think her ability to knock down the three really opened up things for (graduate forward) Emily (Kiser) in the second half,” Brown said.
Thanks to Nolan’s scoring outbursts, Michigan State struggled to guard Michigan’s diversified offense as the game went on, letting up 44 second-half points and squandering their commanding early lead.
But in the midst of the Wolverines’ slump that enabled the Spartans’ early lead, Nolan remained poised. Every stop in play she was talking to her teammates: seemingly trying to correct mistakes and steady morale. Nolan’s calming presence righted the ship.
“We don’t have as much experience as we had with (sophomore guards) Greta (Kampschroeder) and Laila (Phelia) out,” Nolan said. “So (I was) just trying to talk them through everything … (help them find) their confidence because, if you don’t play a lot, sometimes you make a mistake and its easy to get down on yourself.”
Nolan certainly kept her own confidence throughout the game: Each of her field goals came from 3-point range, and her 22 points were the second-highest total of the game. Nolan shot 50% from the field and a stellar 62% from beyond-the-arc.
After the game, Michigan State interim head coach Dean Lockwood acknowledged the gravity of Nolan’s performance:
“She was a focal point to me,” Lockwood said. “You don’t have to be in this league long, or watch Michigan long, to know that Maddie Nolan is a pure shooter. She’s a sharpshooter. She can make threes from anywhere on the floor.”
On Sunday, the ‘pure shooter’ became Michigan’s north star. When the Wolverines needed a path, they turned to Nolan and let her lead the way.