As Nicole Munger drove inside on a fastbreak midway through the first quarter in a 77-73 loss to Michigan State, she screamed in pain and fell to the ground after barreling into a Spartan defender. As Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico came out to check on her, Munger was helped off the court by two assistant coaches, leaving the Michigan women’s basketball team without their captain as they prepared to try and win a contest against their in-state rivals.
The loss of Munger did nothing to help the Wolverines. The Spartans (15-5 overall, 5-4 Big Ten) responded with a 13-2 run to close the quarter and take a lead that they would never relinquish as Michigan (12-9, 3-6) fell in a crushing 77-73 defeat that saw them fail to complete a comeback despite a valiant late effort.
“Once Nicole went down we weren’t able to respond right away," Barnes Arico said. "And they went on a little bit of a run and took us some time to regroup.”
“She’s gonna get checked out,” said sophomore forward Hailey Brown. “We don’t really know much about that.”
The Wolverines managed to keep the game fairly close for most of the second quarter, but Michigan State’s defense put the clamps on late. It held Michigan scoreless over the period’s final 3:24 and went on a 7-0 run to head to the locker room with a 41-31 edge.
On the offensive end, the Spartans hit eight 3-pointers in the first half, including a stretch in the first quarter that saw them hit three consecutive triples after Munger left the game. They would finish with 11 makes from deep. Losing Munger also affected Michigan’s offensive gameplan, as the team attempted just ten 3-pointers.
As the second half began, it was more of the same for both teams, with the Spartans starting the quarter on a 5-0 run and Michigan committing two turnovers. While the Wolverines would appear to be on the verge of finally making an offensive run at times, Michigan State was ready with an answer at every turn, eventually extending its lead to 15 points.
Michigan, though, would eventually make its push late in the period. The Wolverines finished the period on an 8-0 scoring run to cut the lead to five heading into the fourth quarter, sending the Crisler Center crowd of over 10,000 into a frenzy.
“It goes to show that our team, we don’t back down to anyone,” Brown said. “Until we hear the final whistle, until the game is done, we’ll stop playing, but until then we’re gonna keep going and trying to get a W.”
The Wolverines made one last push towards the end of the final quarter, with freshman forward Naz Hillmon’s layup cutting the lead to 67-63 with two minutes to go, but ultimately untimely turnovers and free throws from Michigan State sealed Michigan’s fate.
One key sequence came when the Wolverines trailed by four with about a minute and a half to go in the game. Senior forward Hallie Thome had a pass go off of her hands. On the court, the referee signaled it was Michigan possession, but after further review, the ball was awarded to the Spartans, who promptly gave it away after a traveling violation. The Wolverines seemed to have some hope for a moment, but Michigan turned it over after the inbounds pass was intercepted.