The Hoosiers headed to Indianapolis this week hoping that a long and fruitful run at the Big Ten Tournament might lift them into a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. But after a surprising 69-61 loss to Michigan State on Thursday, they left Bankers Life Fieldhouse hoping their one-and-done appearance won’t instead knock them down to a No. 4 seed.
It was a frustrating opener at the conference event for second-seeded IU, which led by 11 points before halftime, but ultimately had no answers for Spartans guard Nia Clouden. Michigan State’s top player scored 27 of her game-high 30 points in the second half, barreling her way to a big night and sending IU back to Bloomington to await the NCAA Tournament pairings on Monday evening.
“We have to own how we played tonight,” IU’s Ali Patberg said. “We played pretty poorly in all areas.”
Especially over the final two quarters, as the Hoosiers went just 11-for-29 from the field and 0-for-6 from 3-point range across the third and fourth quarters. Clouden, meanwhile, couldn’t miss. With Clouden starting the second half with a three-point play, Michigan State scored the first nine points of the period and, eventually, 12 of the first 16 in the frame.
Ten minutes into the second half, the Hoosiers had been outscored 21-11, with Clouden supplying 15 of her points in the third quarter alone.
“She was very difficult to guard,” IU coach Teri Moren said. “We didn’t have an answer for her in the second half. We were in early foul trouble. I thought they stepped up and hit big shots when they needed to and they were timely. At times I thought their energy level was probably better than ours, particularly starting the third quarter. That’s not the way you want to start a third quarter. I thought in the first half we just left the door open. We missed too many free throws and too many layups.”
Michigan State built its lead to as many as nine points in the fourth quarter before IU began to chip away. Back-to-back buckets from Patberg, followed by a layup by Mackenzie Holmes got the Hoosiers within three with 3:46 to play. But that was as close as they’d get.
Grace Berger finished with 19 points, Holmes posted a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards, and Patberg added 12 points and six assists for the Hoosiers, who saw their winning streak snapped at nine games.
Patberg also accounted for five of IU’s 17 turnovers on the day. For its part, Michigan State scored 18 points off of those Indiana errors.
It also didn’t help matters that Nicole Cardaño-Hillary, one of IU’s best role players down the stretch of the regular season, found herself in foul trouble. Cardaño-Hillary drew Clouden as her defensive assignment, but logged only 11 minutes during the second half.
“It hurt us a lot,” Moren said. “She’s been so great on the ball and the last one she picked up was because of a turnover Ali Patberg had and she picked up the little chippy one and we had to sit her for a while. That hurt because Nicole was doing a good job on Clouden and we had to protect her as much as we could. Clouden started finding her groove and the basket probably looked a lot larger than it was because she was feeling it and we didn’t have an answer for her.”
Because they didn’t, it’ll be a longer-than-expected wait until Selection Monday.
“I have one of the most competitive groups in the locker room I’ve ever had. They’re disappointed yet looking forward to what’s next. There’s been several times we’ve been in this scenario in the Big Ten Tournament and lost and been on the bubble, but we’re excited to playing someone different on Monday night and finding out the seed. We know where we’re going to be sent and then our preparation will restart. Being able to take a couple of days off to rest up and there’s no doubt this group is going to be excited about next Monday night, then playing next week in Texas.”