Michigan State women's basketball shows potential while falling just short to Notre Dame

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  • Suzy Merchant
    American basketball coach

EAST LANSING — Moira Joiner and the Michigan State women's basketball team held their own.

The Spartans came close Thursday while getting their first test from a ranked opponent in No. 24-ranked Notre Dame.

And while the final outcome was a 76-71 loss at Breslin Center in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge contest, MSU proved to itself it isn't far away from talented teams like the Irish.

"I think they realize there's a couple games they can't get back, but if we have this kind of fight in us (we can do well)," MSU coach Suzy Merchant said. "We'll see. There's some good things that definitely can come from it. We've got to just level it up. There's one more level I think that we've got to get to sometimes."

MSU got a sixth straight performance with at least 20 points from star senior guard Nia Clouden, who scored a team-high 20 points on Thursday. Freshman Matilda Ekh made some big baskets and had a career-best 17 points and Joiner was strong off the bench, adding 14 for the Spartans (6-3).

Michigan State's Matilda Ekh, right, moves around Notre Dame's Matilda Ekh during the first quarter on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Michigan State's Matilda Ekh, right, moves around Notre Dame's Matilda Ekh during the first quarter on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Alyza Winston contributed 12 points for MSU, which kept itself within striking distance. The Irish (7-1) built a 10-point lead at a few different points in the second half, but MSU kept finding ways to keep the pressure on.

"We were still in that game," Joiner said. "That tells me that we have a lot of potential and we are with these teams and you shouldn't count us out

"It was really encouraging. Obviously (some of our issues were) on the defensive end and that's something we can control. Defense is effort, so it gives me hope for our team in the future."

Michigan State's Moira Joiner, right, and Notre Dame's Maya Dodson battle for the ball during the fourth quarter on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Michigan State's Moira Joiner, right, and Notre Dame's Maya Dodson battle for the ball during the fourth quarter on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Ekh, who hit several big 3-pointers that helped keep MSU close, thought the Spartans did well for the most part in following their plan. She cited defensive rebounding and getting loose balls being among the improvements Thursday for the Spartans, who have suffered each of their three losses by five points or less.

"I think this team can be really good," Ekh said. "It's kind of been an effort thing for us and a lack of effort lately. I think tonight was much better. We can still do even better. If we just get everyone playing hard every day at practice and in the games, I think this team can be very good."

The Spartans will have more opportunities against good competition in the coming weeks. MSU kicks off Big Ten play against No. 9 Iowa on Sunday and has games looming against No. 22 Florida Gulf Coast and a West Virginia team that's receiving votes in the AP poll.

"I liked our fight," Merchant said. "We're close. We've just got to continue to improve in some areas. Defensive rebounding is one of them, for sure. I thought we shared the ball well. I thought we did a lot of really good things. It's just, for whatever reason, we couldn't get over that five-point hump."

Contact Brian Calloway at bcalloway@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State women's basketball falls to Notre Dame