Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Northwestern 76, Michigan State 65: Jamison's third quarter outburst helps the Wildcats pull through

                                                       Photo Credit: Northwestern Athletics

EVANSTON— Fresh off an emotional 80-67 win against the Indiana Hoosiers on Jan. 14, the Northwestern Wildcats (15-4, 3-2 Big Ten) channeled their energy behind a career-high 22 points from Amber Jamison as they knocked off the Michigan State Spartans (13-6, 3-3 Big Ten) 76-65 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

11 of Jamison’s 22 points came in the third quarter and a three-point make at the buzzer from the baseline set up by a precision pass with two seconds left from Ashley Deary highlighted the outburst to put Northwestern ahead 55-48.

Michigan State interim coach Amaka Agugua knew what Jamison could bring to the table, but having to focus on other scorers did not make things easier.

"We knew [Amber] was a shooter, she came up big," Agugua said. "It makes things harder when Nia Coffey can score and draw others to her and as a result Amber stepped up."

Deary left her mark all over the stat sheet with 20 points, on 10-of-10 from the foul line, seven assists, four steals and played all 40 minutes.

"I was trying to focus and take a deep breath as I went to the line," Deary said. "Every minute you get is a blessing and no matter how fatigued I get, my teammates are there to pick me back up."

The Big Ten's second-leading scorer Tori Jankoska (22.6 per game) finished with a game-high 25 points, on 9-of-17 from the field in the loss for Michigan State.

Allie Tuttle highlighted an early spark for the Wildcats with six points as they jumped out to a 8-2 lead in the first 4:57.

Jankoska took matters into her own hands by producing the next five points to keep the game within reach. The Wildcats had other plans as they countered with a 12-2 run to end the first quarter as the Spartans, sans Jankoska, were held to 1-of-6 from the field.

A game of runs broke out as Michigan State scored the first five, before Northwestern countered with eight straight. In an almost double take of the first 10 minutes, Jankoska took over and scored or assisted on MSU’s next eight points to pull within five with 5:04 left in the first half.

The Spartans managed to pull within a point at 37-36 after the first 20 minutes, but came at a cost as Jankoska went to the locker with a leg injury and struggled to put weight on.

Jankoska returned with her teammates to the court for layup drills prior to the start of the third quarter and showed little to no effects of the injury by making the first basket to give MSU its first lead of the game after trailing by 13 in the second quarter.

Northwestern managed to retake the lead, but traded blows with Michigan State through the rest of the quarter, but Jamison played a major part in pulling away to a 55-48 lead after three quarters.

Jamison’s run continued into the start of the fourth quarter with a timely layup to begin the scoring. With NU up 60-53 and in a comfortable spot, the forward picked up her fourth foul at the 7:31 mark, which resulted in a substitution from Maya Jonas. Ahead 61-52, the Wildcats managed to build their lead with Jamison on the bench to as many as 14 and led for the remainder the game.

Game Notes:

Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant took a medical leave of absence under orders from athletic director Mark Hollis earlier in the week after experiencing symptoms after Saturday's game at Rutgers, which was similar to her fainting on the sidelines in the Big Ten opener vs Illinois.

Despite the absence, Agugua relishes the moment to be able to keep the ship afloat in East Lansing.

"Suzy helped me prepare for this moment, so this wasn't something I was anxious for, but took it more as a blessing and will try to get some wins under our belt," Agugua said.

Northwestern coach Joe McKeown wished Merchant well, but hopes Agugua can relish the moment as a coach, even if in a short-term role.

"Amaka grew up down the street from us [at George Washington] in northern Virginia and obviously we wish Suzy the best, but Amaka is a first-class person and has the respect of her players and you saw it tonight," McKeown said.

The Spartans return to the Breslin Center on Jan. 22 as they host the Purdue Boilermakers for a 4 p.m. tip, while the Wildcats return to action on Jan. 25 to face the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.