We’ve all seen rusty games, teams stumbling over their own feet as they try to find solid court after a week off from competition. But, tonight was a different story.
The Northwestern Wildcats (4-1), for the first time since 1979 and with all the issues around official scoring and shot clock timing, have knocked out a top-five team. No. 4 Michigan State (6-1) waved goodbye to their undefeated streak Sunday night, falling 79-65 in a 10 plus point deficit.
Seems that the halftime energy they gained to revive and pull a victory over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies (0-9) last Sunday didn’t work this time around and, even sporting new uniforms, the win fatigue was catching up.
"Disappointed and honestly confused," Head Coach Tom Izzo said postgame, no smile on his face. "One of the more inept performances of my 26 years. That's kind of a harsh statement, but I'm blaming myself. I'm the one who has to have my team ready."
Izzo said he thought they practiced good, but that fell through when opening seconds started and realization dawned – things went uncovered
He doesn't want to take any of the credit away from Northwestern's Head Coach Chris Collins, however, and commends the work the Wildcats put in. He just can't understand where the difference in how they played vs. how their scouting report came out started.
Sophomore guard Rocket Watts, who was a part of the starting lineup, didn’t offer up anything for the Spartans in the first half, going 0-for-6 and being pulled out several times by a frustrated Izzo. He finally scored, with less than three minutes left in the game, coming home with five points total.
Junior guard Foster Loyer stepped in as Watts's replacement it seemed, covering six points, going 2-for-8 from the field and 2-for-7 from the arc. Loyer played for 24 minutes, the most we’ve seen in a bit from him.
Junior guard Joey Hauser, another player of the starting lineup, went down with just over two minutes left in the first half after a little knee-on-knee bang-up with a Wildcat.
He emerged from the locker room for the second half sporting two braces, one on each leg as he had previously injured his right knee, and spent the first minutes warming up and stretching out with hopes to get vengeance on the opponent.
And it was vengeance he got.
Right on cue, as if it was a godsend, Hauser knocked his first points of the game midway through the second half, copying Watts in coming home with five points total.
It cost the Spartans a lot to lose him, even if it was just a few minutes. It was something that only added to the flaming burden of stress and nail-biting the night proceeded to show out.
Another chunk of the starting lineup – graduate guard Joshua Langford and junior forward Aaron Henry and Thomas Kithier – kept the ship from fully sinking, you could say.
Langford was the second-highest scorer against Northwestern on Sunday, tallying nine points and going 4-for-6 from the field and 1-for-2 from the arc. He added two rebounds and two assists to the team’s totals of 22 and 13, respectively.
"We didn't come to play. We messed up. ... We weren't there as a unit and we take full responsibility," Langford said postgame. "When it comes to really getting a job done, it (depends) on those five guys on the court. ... At the end of the day, you could come up with this and come up with that, what was this and what was that, but we just didn't play like Michigan State should."
Langford said there was a mix of effort-related and mental-related mistakes throughout the night.
Near the end of the game, he fouled out.
Henry, who played the most minutes of the game (25) and led the Spartan dawgs best he could, finished with 11 points, going 5-for-10 from the field and 0-for-2 from the arc. He also added two rebounds and three assists.
Kithier added just two points.
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Junior forward Marcus Bingham Jr. danced the dance against NU’s junior forward Pete Nance, who finished with 15 points, going 6-for-8 from the field and 1-for-2 from the arc, and scoring the second most of the night for the purple and white. Nance also coughed up 12 rebounds and four assists, Bingham Jr. returned nothing.
Sophomore forward Malik Hall and junior forward Gabe Brown backed up the leader, doing everything they could with their 10 points each to stop the Wildcats, who kept a tight hold on the victory from tip-off. However, Hall going 4-for-7 from the field and 1-for-2 from the arc, and Brown going 4-for-5 from the field and 1-for-2 from the arc wasn’t enough.
Northwestern sophomore guard Boo Buie led the way for the Wildcats, coming out with a total of 30 points and going 9-for-15 from the field, 5-for-6 from the arc.
Buie was backed up by fellow Wildcat freshman guard Ty Berry, who laid out 12 points.
The Spartans will host the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers (6-1) in their eighth game of the season at 12:30 p.m. on Christmas.
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