The Minnesota women’s basketball team came out on the wrong end of proving that it’s not how you start a game, but how you finish.
The Gophers got off to a fast start against Michigan State on Sunday afternoon but came up short down the stretch as they fell 66-57.
The game turned into two different halves for both teams. The Gophers shot 45.8 percent in the first half and just 33.3 percent in the second. The Spartans, however, shot 40 percent in the first, but caught fire in the second, shooting 57.7 percent.
The other telling statistic from the game was the 26 points the Spartans scored off offensive rebounds, accounting for nearly 40 percent of their total points.
“I thought we were sitting comfortably up 10 points in the second half,” Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said. “But in the second half I thought their second and third chances off the glass really made the difference.”
The Gophers started strong as senior center Ashley Ellis-Milan hit back-to-back layups and senior Katie Ohm hit a deep 3-pointer to give Minnesota a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Minnesota continued to hold a lead through most of the first half, but Michigan State eventually battled back to tie the game at 21 and managed to take a 26-24 lead with three minutes remaining in the half. The Gophers answered right back as they regained the lead with a Jackie Voigt 3-pointer, and Minnesota went into halftime holding a 32-29 lead.
The second half began with the Gophers looking like they were going to begin to run away with the game as a Kiara Buford layup capped a 9-0 Minnesota run, giving the women a 41-31 lead.
Then Michigan State began scoring in bunches and a 3-pointer by Spartans junior Kalisha Keene tied the game at 44 midway through the second half.
Minnesota continued to battle hard, but a 14-4 Michigan State run began putting the game out of reach as the Spartans let the clock run out along with the Gophers’ comeback hopes.
“I feel like we just couldn’t get a stop,” Ohm said about the Gophers’ second-half play. “They came down and scored every time. They were just tougher than us.”
Minnesota did a good job of slowing down the usual Spartans’ game, including holding 6-foot-9 senior Allyssa DeHaan to just four points and four rebounds. But Keene came off the bench and scored a game-high 16 points — 11 of which came in the second half — to keep the Spartans’ offense flowing.
“I thought Lauren Aitch and Kalisha Keene stepped up in the second half and gave them a boost, and we just couldn’t recover,” Ellis-Milan said. “That’s our fault, and we have to take responsibility for that.”
Ellis-Milan had an outstanding game for the Gophers. Besides being the primary defensive force against DeHaan, she had a team-high 12 points and six rebounds. Senior guard Brittany McCoy also had a solid game with nine points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals, but she also had nine turnovers.
The Gophers clearly missed the offensive production of junior guard China Antoine, who missed her second-straight game with a knee injury and is still day-to-day. Ohm started in place of Antoine and was 3-for-8 on 3-pointers, finishing with 10 points.
Minnesota now travels to No. 5 Ohio State on Thursday, a game slated to start at 6:30 p.m.
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