Inside play strengths, struggles
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — One of the biggest question marks for the Lady Raiders this season is how well they will play in the post.
With Shauntal Nobles continuing to regain her strength, Tech was able to keep Michigan State’s bigs at bay for most of the night.
However, Tech had to play near-perfect defense to limit the Spartans’ chances inside.
A couple of missed assignments and good Michigan State movement showed how undersized Tech really is.
However, Nobles had three blocks late in the game — including one at the buzzer at the end of regulation — and a pair of putbacks in overtime to show what Tech has been missing all season.
“Shauntal made probably two of the biggest plays all year in overtime,” Kelsi Baker said, “and it was much needed and she came right there at the right time. She matured, she grew up and it’s great to have her back. I know she may not be 100 percent, but just her presence on the floor makes a big difference.”
Also, Baker settled down in the paint after going through early foul trouble to lead Tech with 13 points.
The Lady Raiders were out-rebounded 46-37, but outscored the Spartans 26-22 in the paint and had a 13-8 advantage on second-chance points.
Defense makes for tight battle
Michigan State came into Thursday’s game against the Lady Raiders giving up an average of 42 points per game. So despite the low scoring output for Tech — its lowest of the season by nearly 20 points — Tech can still take something away from its performance.
The Spartans limit their opponents to a sub-30 percent shooting clip, too, and Tech shot 29.2 percent for its second-worst shooting performance on the year.
“We knew it was going to be extremely physical,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “I think both of our teams are built a little bit that way. I thought they were a very very good defensive team, too.”
The Spartans played an aggressive man defense, while the Lady Raiders based primarily out of a 2-3 zone.
However, Tech showed some half-court trap sets and caught Michigan State a few times, but not enough to come up with more than two fast-break points.
Even though Michigan State went up by nine in both the first and second halves, Merchant said she knew her team wouldn’t run away with the game because of Tech’s athleticism.
“It was a hard-fought battle,” she said, “and it could have gone to either team. It’s just kind of nice to be the winning coach, you know?”
One more in Vegas
If Texas Tech wants to finish the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Tournament at .500, guard Monique Smalls said the Lady Raiders need to work on the little things and focus on the mistakes.
“Stay positive on what we did right,” Smalls said, “but at the same time we need to fix our mistakes.”
Tech plays Oregon State (6-5) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in South Point Arena, the final game of the tournament. Michigan State defeated Oregon State on Wednesday, 49-35.
Tech turned the ball over 22 time, including 14 in the second half, for second worst turnover margin of the season. The Lady Raiders were minus-four in their 65-61 loss to New Mexico in November.
Kelsi Baker, who scored 13 points to lead all scorers, summed up Friday’s game nicely:
“We need to win,” she said. “We need to go out and fore our will. We need to go 1-1. That’s basically all that needs to be said is we need to win.”
Compiled by Tommy Magelssen