INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State had faltered in too many close calls against quality opponents, including a 12-point home loss to Indiana in the regular season.
But when junior guard Nia Clouden got hot and scored 27 of her 30 points in the second half on Thursday night, everything changed as the seventh-seeded Spartans stunned No. 9 Indiana 69-61 in the quarterfinals of the women’s Big Ten Tournament.
“Just fired up to win and not ready to quit,” Clouden said. “Since we’re already here at the hotel, we’ve got our bags packed to stay for a while, we might as well keep trying to win.”
She hit two jumpers as well as a 3-pointer in about a two-minute span to propel the Spartans to a 57-48 lead over the second-seeded Hoosiers in the final quarter. Then she made five free throws down the stretch. She finished 8-of-17 from the floor and 13-of-16 at the line.
“I’m just really proud of her, and her ability to hit free throws down the stretch, and carry us,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said.
The Spartans (15-7), who enhanced their bid for an NCAA Tournament berth, advance to face the winner of Rutgers-Iowa in Friday’s semifinals.
Alyza Winston added 13 points for Michigan State.
Indiana (18-5) had a nine-game win streak snapped, but is still assured of an NCAA Tournament berth.
“The second half, we didn’t get stops,” Hoosiers guard Ali Patberg said. “(Clouden) was unstoppable.”
“We didn’t have an answer for her in the second half,” added Indiana coach Teri Moren.
Grace Berger led the Hoosiers with 19 points before fouling out. Mackenzie Holmes had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
“We’ll keep our heads up,” Holmes said. “We have much bigger games ahead of us.”
Both teams struggled with shooting, but the Spartans were also sloppy with ballhandling in committing 12 first-half turnovers. The Hoosiers capitalized for a 16-11 lead after the first quarter and 34-26 at the half.
Indiana was ahead for all but 15 seconds of the first half with the largest lead reaching 11 points with just under one minute remaining.
Michigan State erased that deficit in a 9-0 run with just 2:14 elapsed in the third quarter. A Clouden layup put the Spartans ahead 35-34.
Indiana struggled with seven turnovers and endured a scoreless drought of 3:49. The Spartans took a 47-45 edge into the final quarter after a 21-11 third.
Michigan State.: The Spartans strengthened their case for an NCAA Tournament bid with wins on back-to-back days. They reached the NCAA’s second round two years ago.
Indiana: As second seeds in the conference tourney for the first time in program history, the Hoosiers envisioned a title-game showdown with No. 7 Maryland. Instead, the team will have extra time off wondering went wrong before learning their next opponent in the NCAA tourney.
DOWN THE STREET
Although the pandemic limits arena capacity for games, Indiana had fans scattered downtown because the men’s team was playing Rutgers in the Big Ten tourney at Lucas Oil Stadium while the women were facing the Spartans a few blocks away at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Indiana-Rutgers game was shown on the BLF video boards at halftime of the women’s game.