Michigan State rally ends Vanderbilt season, 76-64

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A second-half comeback by Michigan State ended Vanderbilt's season on Sunday night as the Commodores fell to the top-seeded Spartans 76-64 in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Carla Thomas led the Commodores with 22 points.

The game was a tale of two halves. Vanderbilt took the initial lead of the game on a 3-pointer by Caroline Williams, then steadily continued to increase the lead until it reached double digits at 22-12 with 10:36 left in the half.

Then Michigan State went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to just three points at 22-19, prompting Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb to call timeout. A 3-pointer from Abi Ramsey ended the Spartans' run, but soon after, a layup on a fast break by Rene Haynes tied the game at 25-25 with 7:02 left in the first half.

Vanderbilt countered once again with a pair of free throws from Thomas, a 3-pointer from Dee Davis, and a backdoor layup by Katie Antony. Michigan State countered, but a 5-0 Commodore run to end the half gave Vanderbilt a 37-30 lead going into halftime

Coming out of the locker room, the Spartans began to show how they had become a #1 seed in the tournament. Capitalizing on two steals and a defensive rebound, Michigan State tied the game at 37-37 less than two minutes into the second half.

Balcomb called timeout, but nevertheless, Michigan State took their first lead of the game on a basket by Kelli Roehrig following three offensive rebounds on a single play. A 3-pointer from Williams briefly gave Vanderbilt the lead once again at 40-39, but that would prove to be the last lead of the game for the Commodores.

For a few minutes, it looked as though Michigan State would put the game completely out of reach as they went on an 11-0 run to take a 51-42 lead with 12:24. A basket by Cherish Stringfield stopped the bleeding, but the relentless Spartan attack continued and soon the Michigan State lead reached 13 points.

However, all season long Vanderbilt has been a team that has come back from behind, and Sunday night's game was no exception. Slowly the Commodores chipped away, cutting the lead to just six points on a pair of free throws from Earley with six minutes left in the game,

But the Commodores weren't able to get defensive stops at key moments, so the teams traded baskets, and with 1:18 left, Vanderbilt still trailed by seven points.

Ordinarily, a coach might instruct her players to begin fouling to regain possession, but since Vanderbilt had only been whistled for two fouls in the entire half, the Commodores had to commit five fouls in quick succession to put Michigan State into the bonus.

Initially, the strategy worked, with a basket by Carla Thomas cutting the lead back to five points at 69-64 with 43 seconds left. But that was a close as it would get. After Vanderbilt missed a couple of baskets, Ramsey was whistled for an intentional foul with 21 seconds left. Lindsay Bowen sank both free throws and Roehrig scored on the awarded possession, giving Michigan State a 10-point lead with 19 seconds left, and a layup on a fastbreak by Liz Shimek with seven seconds left ended the scoring for the game.

With the loss, the Vanderbilt careers of seniors Ashley Earley and Abi Ramsey come to an end. Both seniors joined Vanderbilt's 1000-point club this season, and Ramsey set the Vanderbilt records for 3-pointers in a game, 3-pointers in a season, and 3-pointers in a career. During their four years at Vanderbilt, they went to the NCAA tournament every year, including two trips to the Sweet Sixteen and one to the Elite 8.

Both seniors will graduate in May. Earley looks forward to playing professional basketball for a few years before attending law school, and Ramsey will begin graduate school at Vanderbilt in the fall.

Photos copyright 2005 by WhitneyD for VandyMania.com.

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