EAST LANSING – The Breslin Center was silent for 15 seconds on Saturday afternoon.
Just before the Michigan State women’s basketball team tipped off against Maryland, those on the court and in the crowd bowed their heads. The Spartans stood with their arms linked in a tearful moment.
Following Monday’s shooting that killed three Michigan State students and hospitalized five others, the Spartans returned to play amid the backdrop of tragedy and honor those who lost their lives and others still fighting.
“Obviously, first and foremost, prayers to the victims and everybody affected,” Michigan State guard Julia Ayrault said. “It’s horrible. It’s been a long week and obviously we’re thinking of them and doing everything we can to kind of bring notice to them and their stories and everything.”
Michigan State rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to pull within three late in the fourth quarter as the crowd of 3,349 came to its feet. However, the Spartans (13-13, 5-10 Big Ten) couldn’t finish off the upset as No. 8 Maryland (22-5, 13-3) held on for a 66-61 win.
“I’m very, very proud of their effort,” said Michigan State acting head coach Dean Lockwood, who continues to fill in for Suzy Merchant, who suffered a medical incident and car crash on Jan. 28. “Very proud of their resiliency, very proud of just how they responded to the events of the past week and how they kept their unity and purpose in this game.”
Anthony McRae is accused of fatally shooting Michigan State students Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner and wounding five others – four who remain in critical condition at Sparrow Hospital – on Monday night. The 43-year-old with no known connections to the university died hours later after a self-inflicted gunshot. There were funerals for Fraser and Verner on Saturday and Anderson’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.
The incident devastated the university and community and led to classes being canceled for the rest of the week and a pause in Michigan State athletics before competition resumed this weekend. The women’s basketball team was scheduled to play at Purdue on Wednesday but that game was postponed before the team returned to the court at home with players and staffers wearing “Spartan Strong” shirts during warmups and on the bench.
“It’s not really about the game or the result, it’s about the community coming together to support each other and to lean on each other and that’s really what we’ve been trying to do all week,” Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller said before Saturday’s game. “Our student-athletes have been absolutely incredible and that’s what they wanted to do from day one.”
Haller met with coaches and student-athletes to seek feedback while providing mental health resources to those in need and said the decision to return was left up to the players. Michigan State sophomore center Brooklyn Rewers opted not to be at the game and is staying with family, a program spokesperson said, and Lockwood supported her decision along with those who chose to play.
“We all need healing and sport can do that and be that,” Lockwood said. “We wanted to kind of be a healing element for our community and at the same time, this was a big opportunity.”
Diamond Miller scored a game-high 29 points to lead Maryland to its fourth straight win. The senior guard shook hands with Michigan State players before and after the game and said she’s praying for them.
“It’s unimaginable,” Miller said of the shooting. “I don’t know how to say how I feel because that is just tragedy.”
Ayrault hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with a season-high 15 points and eight rebounds while leading a late Michigan State rally while Matilda Ekh scored 11. Trailing by three, the Spartans had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds but DeeDee Hagemann’s step-back 3-pointer didn’t drop and the Terrapins sealed the win at the free throw line.
“For us to battle back and have the ball with a chance to tie the game was huge,” Lockwood said. “It’s a credit to them, it’s a credit to their character, it’s a credit to their grit and it’s a credit to their fight. We’re all proud of them for it.”
Michigan State players have a pregame national anthem routine of saying something – usually lighthearted – to each other. On Saturday, the message was about their fellow students who were killed.
“Today it was for them,” Ayrault said, “and I think that speaks for itself.”
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