No. 24 Michigan State escapes aggressive CSUN, 63-59

Taya Reimer tries to get around Channon Fluker. Photo by Jeff Golden.
Taya Reimer tries to get around Channon Fluker. Photo by Jeff Golden.

Northridge, Calif. – Free throws in the game’s final minute helped No. 24 Michigan State escape Cal State Northridge Saturday, 63-59, in the Radisson Chatsworth Thanksgiving Basketball Classic Championship.

Tori Jankoska lead the Spartans with 22 points, despite having the flu. Taya Reimer added 16 points.

The game was tight throughout, with four ties and four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone. Tied at 59 with 21.6 seconds remaining, Branndais Agee stole the ball and was fouled. She made both free throws to give Michigan State a two-point advantage. The Matadors turned the ball over on their next possession and fouled Jankoska, who made both free throws to seal the win.

Sophomore center Channon Fluker had 23 points and 14 rebounds for CSUN, and Nautica Morrow added 14.

It was a gut-check win for the Spartans, who were drubbed by Oregon Tuesday, 88-55. They won their first game at the Classic Friday, by routing Delaware. Coach Suzy Merchant said she was pleased by the mental and physical toughness from her team.

“One of our kids didn’t play tonight, because we have a flu bug going around,” Merchant said. “And after the Oregon game we had a couple of spirited practices, and we got into them a little bit. I thought we responded from that really well.”

“We’re a young team and we’ve got five freshmen and one transfer, which is half our team. So we’re trying to find a way to win.”

Nautica Morrow drives to the basket. Photo by Jeff Golden.
Nautica Morrow drives to the basket. Photo by Jeff Golden.

The Spartans are also coping with the loss of All-American Aerial Powers, who was chosen fifth in last spring’s WNBA draft.

“Aerial Powers did so much for us on both sides of the ball, and she’s a ball-dominant kid, too. She played like a pro in the college game, so we isolated her and let her make plays,” Merchant said. “Not having her has changed our offense completely, and we’re trying to figure that out too.”

The Matadors, who had a rough season last year after graduating a star senior class, have shown signs this year of the NCAA Tournament team they had become. Coach Jason Flowers said he likes what he sees so far from the young squad.

“Our group is growing up, and have grown up a lot since they got here,” he said. “Sometimes in life you have to learn hard lessons. They’re good kids, and what came out of last year is that they’re starting to use lessons learned to help them get better. It starts with preparation and being ready.”

CSUN, with a roster of five freshmen and only one senior, showed no fear against Michigan State, attacking the basket repeatedly and outscoring them both in the paint, and on second-chance points.

“This group has evolved into that kind of team, instead of being afraid to make mistakes,” Flowers said.

Fluker, a sophomore, averages 14.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game so far this season, after coming only two boards shy of a double-double average as a freshman.

The Spartans head to New York Wednesday to play Syracuse, while the Matadors travel to play Northern Arizona on Thursday.