Freshman Aerial Powers has 26 points, 18 rebounds as Spartans roll

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant was a little concerned about how her team would perform after a two-week layoff.

Freshman Aerial Powers and senior Annalise Pickrel put her worries at ease right away.

Powers had 26 points and 18 rebounds, Pickrel had 21 points on 7 of 7 shooting and the fifth-seeded Spartans jumped out to a 32-point halftime lead and cruised to an easy 91-61 victory over No. 12 Hampton on Sunday to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Michigan State (23-9) came into the tournament looking to avenge a 28-point loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten Conference semifinals on March 8 and played inspired basketball almost from the opening tip.

"It felt like an eternity since we played," Merchant said. "But we did a great job of keeping our composure and moving the ball."

And playing defense.

The Spartans held Hampton to 18 percent shooting in the first half to build a 54-22 lead the break. They never led by less than 30 points in the second half.

Merchant got a huge day from her three key freshmen.

Powers, who came in as the only freshman in the nation to total at least 400 points, 200 rebounds and 75 assists this season, was dominant in all phases in her first NCAA tournament game. She was 10 of 18 from the field, often slicing down the lane and creating an open shot, and chipped in with two blocked shots and two steals to overcome two early turnovers.

Powers also held Hampton's Malia Tate-DeFreitas to 1 of 15 shooting from the field.

Fellow freshmen Branndais Agee had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Tori Jankoska had 11 points for the Spartans, who shot 58 percent from the field in the first half.

"We need some excitement in our game and it's a positive," Merchant said of the influx of freshmen in women's basketball this season. "It's a positive and might bring some fans back for four more years -- and even attract some new ones."

Of course, Merchant's star senior was pretty good, too.

Pickrel's 21 points tied a career high. She hit all three 3-pointers and was 4 of 4 from the foul line to cap a perfect shooting day.

The taller Spartans outscored the Pirates 46-30 in the paint.

Hampton (28-5), the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions, came in riding an 18-game winning streak and looking for its first NCAA tournament win.

But the first half did them in.

It didn't take long for Michigan State to take control.

Trailing 6-5, Powers ignited a 15-1 run by scoring on an offensive rebound and then on a fast break layup to give her team the lead for good. Pickrel knocked down two 3-pointers and Jankoska added another trey during the stretch.

When Michigan State wasn't hitting shots from outside, they were dominating on the boards. They out-rebounded the Pirates 54-42.

The Spartans continued to pull away building a 32-point lead halftime behind Powers, who already had a double-double at the break with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

"We weren't ready to go, and I take responsibility for that," Hampton coach David Six said.

Said Pirates guard Kenia Cole: "You can't have slow starts against a team like Michigan State and expect to win."

Hampton too often settled for one-on-one drives to the hole which often resulted in blocked shots or misses. The Spartans had six blocks alone in the first half.

"We let our emotions get the best of us," Six said. "We did a lot of 1-on-1 play and did not move the ball from side to side."

Part of that might have been Michigan State's preparation.

"We had been preparing for them for a while and knew their offensive sets backward and forward," Pickrel said.

Nicole Hamilton led the Pirates with 19 points. Alyssa Bennett had 16.

Michigan State led by at least 30 points throughout the second half but coach Merchant waited until the final minutes before emptying the bench.

Becca Mills added 12 points for Michigan State, which has advanced to the second round in nine of its last 10 seasons.

Hampton fell to 0-8 all-time in NCAA tournament play.