EAST LANSING — Matilda Ekh has enjoyed the last week having her mother on hand from Sweden to watch her play.
And with Sunday marking the final game for her mother to watch on this trip, the freshman delivered a strong performance to help the Michigan State women’s basketball team find its way back in the win column.
Ekh's all-around effort was key as the Spartans ended a two-game losing streak with a 65-46 Big Ten victory over Northwestern at Breslin Center.
Ekh followed Wednesday’s career-high scoring performance by scoring 18 points and added four steals and drew five charges to help MSU pick up a win with coach Suzy Merchant unavailable due to being in COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
“Both those 3s and charges are plays that bring a lot of energy and gives us momentum.” Ekh said. “Those kind of plays are part of being tough as we talked about before the game.”
Playing tough and for each other and for Merchant were among the focuses prior to Sunday for the Spartans (8-8, 3-3 Big Ten) when they learned they would be without their leader. Ekh exhibited that on many levels.
Ekh shook off a slow start from the field in which she missed her first five shots to make some big plays for MSU. She knocked down six of her final 10 shot attempts and drew four charges in the second half.
“The five charges, first of all, is absolutely huge,” MSU acting head coach Dean Lockwood said. “Five charges is just simply — that’s tremendous and that’s being really dialed in. That shows you how dialed in you are mentally and how committed you are physically. That’s outstanding. In addition to that, for her to unleash her 3-point game again and to make six 3s — that’s absolutely a huge lift for this team.
“One thing about Matilda is she’s got a very high basketball IQ. She gets concepts. Everybody learns differently and at a different pace. When we’re doing something, whether it’s new or that we’ve gone over, she’s very, very receptive and very locked into the information. Her IQ really showed.”
Ekh gave the Spartans momentum when she hit a 3 just before time expired in the first half that gave them a 27-25 lead. The momentum from that shot carried to the second half as Ekh hit another 3 to open the scoring and kick off a 12-2 run over the opening stages of the third quarter.
Nia Clouden, who had a game-high 19 points, said Ekh’s shot to close the opening half provided a big lift offensively as the Spartans put together one of their most consistent performances of the season and evened their Big Ten record.
Clouden also was proud of the impact Ekh had defensively and how she has stepped up in that area.
“She’s come a long way on defense from the beginning of the season to just now halfway through, which says a lot about her," Clouden said. "She puts in the work as well. She’s a really big-time part of our team and she embraces it. She asks us questions and we answer and she’s a really good listener. Just being able to see her be successful out there — it makes me really happy.”
Okemos graduate Laya Hartman tied a team-high with 10 points off the bench for Northwestern (11-5, 3-2) in her return home. Sunday marked her third double figures scoring performance this season.
Contact Brian Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.
This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Matilda Ekh's toughness helps Michigan State women's basketball to win