Spartans Keane, Johnson, Merchant Honored with Big Ten Awards


Keane becomes first Spartan to be named Big Ten Player of the Year.  Photo courtesy of MSU SID.
Keane becomes first Spartan to be named Big Ten Player of the Year. Photo courtesy of MSU SID.


EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State women’s basketball collected three major postseason Big Ten awards on Monday, as senior Kalisha Keane was named Big Ten Player of the Year, junior Lykendra Johnson was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and head coach Suzy Merchant was Big Ten Coach of the Year. Keane was also first-team All-Big Ten by both the coaches and media, while Johnson was first team by the media and second team by the coaches. Senior Brittney Thomas was an honorable mention selection on both lists.


Keane becomes the first Spartan to be Big Ten Player of the Year, as she earned the honor by the conference coaches. Ohio State ’s Jantel Lavender was named player of the year by the media. She is also just the fourth consensus first-team All-Big Ten choice for MSU, and combines with Johnson to become the second pair of Spartans to be first team in the same season (Kristen Rasmussen and Maxann Reese in 1999-00).


Keane leads the Spartans and is seventh in the Big Ten with 16.2 points per game, also ranking second on the team in assists (2.2) and steals (2.4), and third in rebounds (5.0). Her overall steals are second in the Big Ten to Johnson, however, Keane became the first Spartan to lead the Big Ten in conference play with 2.6 a game. In addition, she is the only player in the conference to rank among the top-15 in all three shooting percentages, and is fourth in the league and first on MSU with 2.1 3-pointers a game.


Keane earns All-Big Ten recognition for the fourth-straight season, having been a third team choice last season, and an honorable mention selection as a sophomore and freshman. Keane joins Thomas, Lavender and Northwestern’s Amy Jaeschke as the only Big Ten players to earn all-conference recognition in each of the last four seasons.


“I am so happy for Kalisha,” said Merchant. “I don’t think there is a player in the Big Ten that deserves it more. There might be players that have more points and rebounds, but no one did more for her team. For four years, she has been the most unselfish Michigan State player of all-time, and for her to finish her career with this kind of award is so deserving.”


Also, Keane was the team's Big Ten Sportsmanship Award recipient.


Johnson is the second straight Spartan to be named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, following Allyssa DeHaan last season. Johnson leads the Spartans with 2.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and 9.0 rebounds. Her steals lead the conference, while her rebounds are fourth and blocks are sixth. Johnson was the anchor to the Spartan defense that led the Big Ten in conference play in scoring defense, rebound margin, steals, turnovers forced and 3-point field goal percentage defense.  In addition, she was named to the all-defensive teams, marking the fifth straight season that a Spartan was on the team.


Johnson was named all-conference for the third consecutive season, after being third team last year and honorable mention as a freshman. Johnson is second on the team and 18th in the Big Ten with 11.9 points, while leading MSU and ranking ninth with a 49.6 field goal percentage. She stepped up her play in conference action, being one of three players to average a double-double with 13.9 points and 10.8 rebounds in league games. Johnson also was third in the Big Ten with seven double-doubles in conference play and had nine overall.


“It is neat for Lykendra because she has come a long way. She is playing at the position she has never played before, so to compete at a high level and be successful, is really rewarding for her,” said Merchant. “That’s back-to-back seasons that we have had the defensive player of the year, and that’s fitting because defense is what we are built on.”


Merchant, who was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by both the media and her coaching peers, is the third Spartan coach to earn this honor, joining Joanne McCallie in 2004-05 and Karen Langeland in 1987-88. Merchant led Michigan State to its first outright Big Ten championship, after MSU shared the conference crown in 1997 and 2005. The Spartans, who are currently ranked in the top-10 in both national polls, finished the Big Ten season at 13-3, winning the conference by two games, and are 25-4 overall entering postseason play. MSU’s 25 wins are the second most in program history, and mark the eighth straight 20-win season.


“For me it’s about what we accomplished as a group,” said Merchant. “Getting that honor is a reflection of the team doing a great job, night in, night out, on the floor. It is a very low maintenance, very committed team that has tremendous chemistry. For me to get this honor, it is more about what we have been able to accomplish throughout the season, through their hard work.”


Thomas earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in all four of her seasons at MSU. She leads the Spartans with 2.9 assists, while also averaging a career best 9.1 points, which is third on the team. Thomas is tied for 10th in the Big Ten and third on the Spartans with 1.7 steals.


In Coach Merchant’s four seasons at Michigan State , 15 Spartans have earned All-Big Ten recognition, the most in the conference.Â


Rounding out the postseason awards, Penn State ’s Maggie Lucas was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Sixth Player of the Year. Lavender, Jaeschke and Iowa ’s Kachine Alexander joined Keane on both first team All-Big Ten lists, while Penn State ’s Alex Bentley was on the coaches’ first team.