EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant looked at Oregon's statistical profile and figured the Ducks could be beaten.
It just wouldn't be easy.
"All we had to do was be better than them for two hours," Merchant said. "That's what we just kept talking about. For two hours, our stats have to be just a little bit better."
Jenna Allen scored 27 points including a big three-pointer the final minute and Michigan State handed No. 3 Oregon its first loss of the season, 88-82 on Sunday. Up by three late in the fourth quarter, the Spartans ran the shot clock down and got the ball to Allen, who sank a three-pointer with 35 seconds left, then ran down the court with her arms outstretched to each side, holding three fingers out with each hand.
The 6-foot-4 Allen has made 10 three-pointers this season, including three in this game, after making only 21 through her first three seasons with the Spartans. She said she was expecting to get the ball on that crucial late possession.
"I worked on my three-point shot all summer, and seniors step up," she said.
Sabrina Ionescu scored 29 points for Oregon and Erin Boley added 24, but the Ducks (7-1) didn't start defending well until the final quarter, and Michigan State made enough shots late to pull out the win.
"They made a layup, they shot a wide open three, or we fouled them. That was basically the whole game," Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. "We just kind of went through the motions defensively. We're not a very good defensive team anyway, and when you play with that kind of effort, that's what's going to happen."
Oregon's Ruthy Hebard came in averaging 17 points a game and shooting 71 percent from the field, but the Spartans limited her to 10 points.
"She's got to want the ball," Graves said. "That's the bottom line."
Oregon trailed by 11 early in the fourth but rallied to tie it at 75. It was 77-all when Sidney Cooks put Michigan State (8-1) back ahead with a shot from around the top of the key.
Shortly after that, Taryn McCutcheon connected from beyond the arc to push the lead to five. McCutcheon shot just 4 of 14 from the field but finished with 14 crucial points.
The Ducks scored the game's first nine points, causing Michigan State to take an early timeout. It was 16-4 at one point, but the Spartans closed to within three by the end of the quarter.
Michigan State took a 39-37 lead when Allen made a three-pointer while being fouled with 2:44 left in the half. The Spartans closed the second quarter on a 17-2 run and led 46-39 at halftime. Michigan State led 69-60 after three.
The Ducks came in averaging 94.7 points per game, the top mark in the nation, but Oregon's difficulty at the other end of the court was a major factor Sunday. The Ducks allowed Michigan State to shoot 58 percent from the field and over 60 percent in both the second and third quarters.
Oregon had its highest ranking in program history, but the Ducks figure to fall after losing to the unranked Spartans. It's just a question of how far.
"We hadn't earned the ranking," said Graves, whose team has another road game Wednesday against South Dakota State.. "I think everybody assumes because of what we've done in the past, that it's just naturally going to happen, and we haven't played hungry. We didn't play hungry. They played hungrier tonight."
Michigan State got only three votes in the most recent Top 25, but it may be time for voters to give the Spartans more of a look. The Spartans have only one loss this season by four at N.C. State and, after this win, they look like they could be a threat in the Big Ten. The Spartans play at Hartford next Sunday.