Shay Colley delivers late as Michigan State survives Central Michigan and advances

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The first women’s basketball matchup between neighbors Michigan State and Central Michigan since 2005 was worth the wait.

Shay Colley made sure it didn’t end in heartbreak for the Spartans.

The 5-foot-8 junior guard’s hard drive to the basket and layup with 7.6 seconds left sent No. 9 seed Michigan State into the NCAA Tournament’s second round with a frenetic 88-87 victory over 2018 tourney bracket-buster Central Michigan, Saturday at Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion.

The eighth-seeded Chippewas (25-8) rallied from 12 down in the first half and 11 down in the second, and had a clean look at a potential game-winner from 17 feet at the buzzer. But sophomore guard Micaela Kelly’s shot hit the front of the iron.

“We had a great shot at the end,” CMU coach Sue Guevara said of the final sequence. “Kudos to Michigan State. I said to Suzy after the game, ‘You sure you don’t want to do this more often?’

“Not a chance.”

Suzy is Suzy Merchant, a former star guard for Central Michigan who faced her alma mater Saturday as Michigan State’s head coach for the first time. The two schools, located roughly an hour’s drive apart, do have a history — even if it isn’t recent.

Saturday’s NCAA first-round game was the 36th in the series overall, and the fourth in postseason play.

And the 12th-year Spartan coach is happy to see the Chippewas in her rear-view mirror, especially Mid-American Conference Player of the Year Reyna Frost. The 6-foot forward lit the Spartans up for 34 points, five off her career high.

“They played their hearts out,” Merchant said. “That’s what this time of year is all about.”

Despite the 11 losses, Michigan State has been an intermittent giant-slayer this season. The Spartans have taken out two of the NCAA Tourneys No. 2 seeds, Oregon and Iowa, and third-seeded Maryland during the regular season. They’re 8-5 against the tournament field.

Now, they get defending national champion Notre Dame (31-3) on Monday night (7 EDT tipoff; ESPN). 

The Irish, the top seed in the Chicago regional, crushed 16 seed Bethune-Cookman, 92-50, in the session opener on Saturday. Notre Dame also crushed MSU the last time the two teams met, in December of 2017, early in their national title run, by a 90-59 count.

Monday’s winner gets a trip to the Sweet 16 and to Chicago.

“We’re just going to stay and celebrate this one for a little bit,” Merchant said when pressed about her initial thoughts of prepping for the Irish. “Then a lot of film (study). Obviously, they’re national champions for a reason.”

The reason ultimately Michigan State, and not Central Michigan, is playing Notre Dame on Monday was its size advantage.

Sidney Cooks, a 6-4 sophomore, came off the bench to lead the Spartans with 21 points, more than double her average and tying a career high. Fourteen of those points came in the second half, including two big buckets on power moves in the final 90 seconds.

“I was just focused on my height and speed, and it really worked out,’’ Cooks said.

Michigan State was balanced in scoring, per usual. Freshman Nia Clouden added 16 points and a game-high seven assists. Colley had 13, Taryn McCutcheon 12 — all on 3-pointers, and Jenna Allen 10.

The Spartans also used their size on the defensive end, to try to limit Frost’s touches in the second half.

Frost had surpassed her season scoring average (21.8) by midway through the second quarter and had 25 of the Chippewas’ 40 points at the half, when they trailed by three.

She was 12-of-19 from the field in the first half and 4-of-9 in the second.

“I think she’s a great player,” said Merchant, 44-5 collectively against the other schools in the state during her run at MSU. “I was just surprised at how poorly a job we did on her, but I give the credit to her. I thought she was their heart and soul.”

Kelly added 24 points for CMU, 18 of them in the second half. Presley Hudson, who earlier had knocked Merchant out of the record books as the Chippewas’ career assist leader, had 16 of her 20 points in the second half.

“My heart couldn’t be happier with the effort that we gave,” said Guevara, whose 2018 team got to the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed with wins over No. 6 LSU, and 3 seed Ohio State on its home floor.

This season, Central Michigan fell to No. 1 seed Louisville during the regular season and knocked off a Miami (Fla,) team by 10 point on its home court that later handed the Irish one of their three losses.

Now that Michigan State survived the Chippewas, can the Spartans pull the shocker Monday?

“If everybody buys into their roles and we play together with intensity, then anything can happen,” Merchant said. “That’s why we play these games.”

MICHIGAN ST. (21-11): Gaines 4-4 0-0 8, Allen 3-5 4-4 10, Clouden 5-13 5-5 16, Colley 6-16 0-0 13, McCutcheon 4-9 0-0 12, Cook 3-6 2-2 8, Cooks 10-14 0-0 21, Hollie 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 35-67 11-11 88.

CENT. MICHIGAN (25-8): Frost 16-27 1-1 34, Smith 1-1 0-0 2, Hudson 8-14 2-2 20, Kelly 8-17 4-5 24, Watters 0-3 0-0 0, Bird 0-0 0-0 0, Bussell 3-7 0-0 7, Totals 36-69 7-8 87.

Michigan St. 25 18 23 22 —88

Cent. Michigan 20 20 21 26 —87

3-Point Goals—Michigan St. 7-17 (Clouden 1-3, Colley 1-3, McCutcheon 4-8, Cooks 1-3), Cent. Michigan 8-22 (Frost 1-5, Hudson 2-5, Kelly 4-9, Watters 0-1, Bussell 1-2). Assists—Michigan St. 19 (Clouden 7), Cent. Michigan 21 (Hudson 5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Michigan St. 33 (Colley 7), Cent. Michigan 30 (Frost 7). Total Fouls—Michigan St. 14, Cent. Michigan 11. Technical Fouls—None.A—7,885.

Michigan State’s Shay Colley (0) and Victoria Gaines (15) hug as they walk off the Purcell Pavilion court following their 88-87 win over Central Michigan in a first-round NCAA women’s tournament game on Saturday.
Central Michigan’s Presley Hudson becomes emotional as she exits the court following the 88-87 loss to Michigan State in an NCAA Tournament game in South Bend Saturday.