Dean Lockwood steps in as Michigan State women's basketball gets win in absence of leader

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Dean Lockwood coaches from the sidelines during Michigan State's game against Northwestern at Breslin Center on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022 at the Breslin Center. Lockwood served as acting coach for MSU with Suzy Merchant unavailable due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Dean Lockwood coaches from the sidelines during Michigan State's game against Northwestern at Breslin Center on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022 at the Breslin Center. Lockwood served as acting coach for MSU with Suzy Merchant unavailable due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

EAST LANSING — As Dean Lockwood took to the podium at the Breslin Center on Sunday afternoon, the remnants of the water that had been thrown on him were still being felt.

But the dousing the Michigan State women’s basketball associate head coach received following Sunday’s 65-46 victory over Northwestern was well worth it.

Lockwood earned the water shower from players in a locker room postgame celebration after filling in as head coach for Suzy Merchant, who was unavailable due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

Sunday marked the first game for Lockwood as a head coach since the 2003-04 season when he led the Saginaw Valley men’s basketball program.

“It was heaven on earth,” Lockwood said of the celebration. "For a win, you’ll take anything. I’ll take having them dump garbage on me, having them dump water on me – I don’t care. The spirit of this team today was tremendous. It was a team effort first and foremost. They were so connected and defensively they were really, really dialed in. Obviously, without coach Suzy, there was that extra motivation to show that we’ve been taught well.

“The old Minnesota Viking coach Bud Grant said this, and I’ll always remember this. The sign of great leadership is you can remove the leader temporarily and a team still functions at a high level. That’s a credit to Suzy. They wanted to show that you know what, even though you’re not here with us physically, the stuff you’ve prepared us for and the concepts and everything — we can execute.”

More: Matilda Ekh shows toughness in helping Michigan State women's basketball top Northwestern

Lockwood, who will also coach Wednesday’s scheduled game at Indiana, learned Saturday morning after Merchant received her COVID-19 testing result he would take over. He had plenty of contact with Merchant from Saturday morning prior to tip off in putting together a plan for Northwestern.

And there was a FaceTime call with Merchant following the victory that Lockwood said featured a lot of jubilation from players and staff.

“You see a need and you fill it,” said Lockwood, who joined Merchant’s staff in April 2019. “That’s part of what we do. Obviously having been a head coach for 12 years, it wasn’t brand new for me. I had to get the rust off a little bit. As an assistant you’ve got to be about 80% analytical and maybe 20% emotional. As a head coach, you move that 12 inches over, it’s a little different. That balance has to be a little different. It was fun, but once again it was just a need that this program had.

“I’ll tell you Maria (Fantanarosa) and Kristin (Haynie) were tremendous on the bench. We have a great working chemistry. I’m very, very thankful and blessed to have great people to work with and they were tremendous to work with. It was just fun and it was a team effort all the way around.”

MSU women's basketball associate head coach Dean Lockwood  talks to Alisia Smith during a game against Northwestern on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. Lockwood served as acting head coach for Spartans with coach Suzy Merchant out due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
MSU women's basketball associate head coach Dean Lockwood talks to Alisia Smith during a game against Northwestern on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. Lockwood served as acting head coach for Spartans with coach Suzy Merchant out due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

Lockwood also enjoyed seeing consistency throughout an entire game for the Spartans, who have struggled in that area this season — especially in recent losses to Purdue and Ohio State.

Nia Clouden said the players knew Merchant would have fought her way into the building if she could and said that provided inspiration.

"(Merchant) was so emotional (when we talked to her after the game)," Clouden said. "We heard she was calling around to everybody in the building and somebody wasn't answering her calls. She was trying to talk to people at halftime. We know how important this is to her so we just want to play hard for her and especially because we know she couldn't be there."

Contact Brian Calloway at bcalloway@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Dean Lockwood 'fills a need' and guides MSU women's basketball to win