The West Virginia University women’s basketball used a dominant second half to defeat Michigan State, 74-54, on Tuesday afternoon, at Keiser University in West Palm Beach, to conclude play at the 2021 West Palm Beach Invitational.
After falling behind, 18-12, in the first quarter to Michigan State, the Mountaineers put their foot on the gas and outscored the Spartans, 62-36, over the final three quarters of the contest. WVU shot 50 percent or better from the floor in each of those periods, including 61.5 percent in the fourth quarter. Additionally, the Mountaineer defense held MSU to less than 33.3% from the floor throughout the game, including 18.2 percent in the second quarter.
West Virginia (7-3, 0-0 Big 12) was led by junior forward Esmery Martinez, who yielded a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double in the win. Fifth-year senior center Blessing Ejiofor gathered 12 rebounds in the contest to pace WVU on the glass, while junior guard KK Deans tallied a career-high 10 assists in the win. Of note, Deans became the first Mountaineer since Naomi Davenport vs. Coppin State on Nov. 6, 2018, to finish with at least 10 assists in a game.
After the Mountaineers handled the opening tip, senior forward Kari Niblack took the ball down and scored just 16 seconds into the contest. Michigan State tied the game soon after, and the two teams commenced to jockey with the lead. A pair of 3’s from junior guard Jayla Hemingway and Martinez created a four-point separation for West Virginia at the 5:30 mark, but the Spartans fired back with five points of their own to take a 11-10 lead at the first media timeout.
Deans scored coming out of the break to retake the lead, but that ended up being the last field goal of the quarter for the Mountaineers. On the other end of the court, Michigan State rattled off seven points following the timeout, as WVU trailed, 18-12, at the end of the first.
West Virginia began the second quarter on a 6-0 run to tie the game. The two teams traded a basket each over the next few possessions to keep the game tied at 20-20 until the second media break.
The Mountaineers came out of the timeout on a 5-0 run, which included a 3-pointer from senior guard Jasmine Carson, to take the lead for the remainder of the half. WVU outscored Michigan State, 11-9, over the final 4:55 of the half and held the Spartans to just one field goal over the final 4:05. West Virginia led by two heading into the locker room.
WVU began the second half fast and netted an 8-2 run, which forced Michigan State to call timeout with 6:31 to go in the quarter. Even after the break, the Mountaineers’ offense kept on rolling, adding six more points to force another MSU stoppage. West Virginia led, 45-31, with 5:08 remaining in the third.
Michigan State scored to stymie the Mountaineers’ onslaught following the break, but WVU kept attacking. Both teams scored seven points down the stretch, as West Virginia led by 11 heading into the final 10 minutes of action.
The two teams played even over the first 2:38 of the fourth quarter, each netting a score, but WVU rode a 7-2 run into the media break the stretch its advantage. The Mountaineers led by 16 with 5:01 remaining in the game.
The final five minutes of the game saw the Mountaineers seal the victory, as West Virginia scored 11 points and led by as many as 22 during that stretch. WVU scored 21 or more points in each of the final two quarters and held Michigan State to 25 points in the second half to move to 7-3 on the season.
West Virginia finished the game shooting 31-of-64 (48.4 percent) from the floor and made five 3-pointers. The Mountaineers outrebounded the Spartans, 41-37, and scored 42 of its 74 points in the paint. Additionally, WVU’s bench scored 36 points in the contest, marking the fifth time this season the Mountaineer reserves have finished with 30 or more in a game.
After the holiday break, West Virginia returns to Morgantown on Wednesday, Dec. 29, when the Mountaineers play host to Maryland Eastern Shore at the WVU Coliseum. WVU’s contest against the Hawks tips off at 7 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.