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Mens hoops get ready for Wildcats, several away games

January 24, 2001

Holding only 8,117 fans, Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena looks more like a high school gym than a collegiate athletics center.

But Charlie Bell knows it can provide just as deadly results against opponents.

“It’s one of the tougher places to play,” the senior guard said. “I remember a couple of years ago we went to overtime with them there. Mateen (Cleaves) had a real big game, but if he wouldn’t have played well we probably would have lost.”

It’s those memories of close games against the Wildcats in Evanston, Ill., that concerns MSU head coach Tom Izzo, who said the upcoming schedule will be a key portion of the season - especially because of the loss of senior forward Andre Hutson to pneumonia.

Hutson could play as early as Saturday when the Spartans visit Ohio State.

“We’re coming into a big stretch right now and I think it will be critical for this team,” Izzo said. “With five out of the next six games on the road and Andre out, I think we are going to have to get a little more play out of a few more players.”

No. 3 MSU (15-1 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) has a 64-36 edge on the all-time series against the unranked Wildcats, (7-11, 0-6) who have lost 28 straight conference games.

Bell said MSU will have to step up its play due to Hutson’s absence.

“Definitely it’s a challenge not having Andre in the lineup,” Bell said. “He’s a four-year starter and I’m always used to seeing him out on the floor. For a lot of our guys, this is their first time starting for us so we have a lot of young guys on the floor.”

Izzo mentioned in his press conference Monday that a new starter could emerge, such as redshirt freshman forward Adam Wolfe or senior guard Mike Chappell to match up against Northwestern’s quick guards.

Sophomore forward Adam Ballinger, who had his first career start in Sunday’s home game against Ohio State, will also be in consideration for the position.

Ballinger said Northwestern is a formidable squad due to the fact they run a unique offensive scheme.

The Wildcats are led by guard Ben Johnson (10.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and forward Winston Blake (12.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg).

“One of the things they usually do is play four guards and have one big man in the middle,” Ballinger said. “That’s tough for us to guard because you have to have real quick players.”

Izzo also is concerned with the Wildcats’ ability to play well against nationally ranked teams under first-year head coach Bill Carmody - formerly of Princeton.

“With six minutes to go in their game against Illinois they were one point down,” Izzo said. “With ten minutes to go in their game against Purdue they were one point down. Their team just hangs in there and gets better and better due to the offensive system (Carmody) runs.”

Sophomore guard Jason Richardson, MSU’s leading scorer who is averaging 16 points per game, said despite Northwestern’s misfortune in conference play, it will be a challenge to play the Wildcats twice in the span of two weeks. The Spartans last defeated Northwestern 84-53 Jan. 10 at Breslin Student Events Center.

“It’s tough to play against Northwestern since they do a lot of back door plays similar to Princeton,” Richardson said.

“We have to take them seriously and not overlook them or they’ll run over us.”

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