Michigan State sleepwalked through most of its Saturday afternoon battle with Northwestern and came away with a narrow loss, 64-62, after MSU could not capitalize on two last-second chances to win or force overtime. It was Northwestern’s first win in the Breslin Center since 2009.
After pulling a win out of nowhere on Tuesday against Minnesota, the luck seemed to have run out for the Spartans, who did not look interested in playing today. The lack of effort gave Northwestern the edge it needed to build a lead and withstand MSU’s comeback attempt.
Michigan State trailed by five at halftime thanks to a strong shooting half from three-point range from the Wildcats and a very characteristic and back-breaking 12 turnovers from the Spartans.
The Wildcats were led by redshirt junior center Ryan Young, who scored a game-high 18 points, including 13 points in the second half down the stretch to parry Michigan State’s comeback and hold on to Northwestern’s second win in the Big Ten.
Northwestern was without its leading scorer, senior forward Pete Nance, but they were able to pull off the upset by holding Michigan State to just 64 points, tied for its second-lowest point total of the season.
It is the first loss for Michigan State since Nov. 26, when they lost to No. 1 Baylor. MSU’s first loss in the Big Ten snaps a nine-game winning streak and drops them out of first place in the conference standings, behind Illinois.
The Spartans came out the gates sloppily against the Wildcats, once again. Michigan State started 1-5 from the field with two early turnovers that crushed any momentum MSU had in the opening moments.
On the other hand, Northwestern came out of the gates firing from deep. Northwestern jumped out to an eight-point lead in the first five minutes thanks to a pair of back-to-back threes from junior forward Robbie Beran and redshirt junior guard Chase Audige.
Michigan State answered the quick 6-0 run and eight-point deficit with a 7-0 run of themselves to cut the lead back to one eight minutes into the first half. The run was largely sparked by MSU’s defense, who held Northwestern scoreless for over three minutes after a layup from sophomore center Matthew Nicholson put Northwestern up 12-4 early.
The issue of turnovers was very apparent once again in the first 10 minutes of the game for the Spartans. Michigan State gifted the ball to Northwestern seven times in the opening 10 minutes, making it impossible for MSU to build any sort of rhythm offensively.
Michigan State briefly tied the game at 14 after senior forward Gabe Brown hit a 30-foot three at the end of the shot clock. A minute later, after Young split a pair of free throws, Brown hit another shot from deep to give MSU a 17-15 lead but could not hold on to it for long after the Wildcats answered with a pair of threes of their own.
The first half three-point barrage from the Wildcats continued after they regained their lead. Northwestern was 7-13 from deep as a team in the opening 20 minutes.
MSU was able to hang with them step-for-step in the first half, despite the 12 painful turnovers and bad perimeter defense, thanks to shooting 50% from the field in the first half.
Thanks to strong shooting and poor defense by both teams in the first half, neither team could build a lead bigger than five points for the final eight minutes of the half. Northwestern finished the half on a 7-1 run, taking a 38-33 lead into the halftime locker room.
Michigan State came out in the second half with much more energy than it displayed in the entire first half. MSU forced multiple turnovers in the first five minutes of the second half to get the offense moving in transition for easy layups, cutting the lead to 46-44 with just over 14 minutes left.
Northwestern continued to find success on offense, thanks to its ability to out-rebound MSU’s bigs and create second-chance opportunities consistently. Despite its success getting offensive rebounds, MSU was still able to whittle into the lead because it held Northwestern to four of 19 shooting and zero for nine three-point shooting in the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
The score remained 46-44 for nearly three minutes before freshman guard Max Christie was fouled and hit two free throws to tie the game at 46 with 12 minutes left. The run continued as Michigan State continued to attack in transition. Back-to-back layups from junior center Julius Marble II put MSU up 50-46 with 10:15 left in the game.
The lead was short-lived, though, after Young scored six straight points himself, giving Northwestern a two-point lead once again. He did most of his work on the offensive glass, just like the rest of the Wildcats.
Northwestern pushed the lead back to five points with 4:30 left, leaving the Spartans with their backs against the wall staring the end of their nine-game winning streak in the face. Junior forward Malik Hall answered the expanding Northwestern lead by making a corner three through contact for a four-point play, cutting Northwestern’s lead to one, once again, with 3:36 left.
Northwestern took a four-point lead into the final minute of regulation thanks to a pair of free throws from junior guard Boo Buie, but Marble quickly got the points back at the line, keeping the Northwestern lead at two with 59 seconds left.
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Michigan State forced a miss and got the ball back with 30 seconds left with a chance to take the lead or force overtime. MSU went to a pick and pop between Walker and Hall, but Hall’s three from the top of the key missed. Northwestern pulled down the rebound but traveled, giving MSU the ball back with one second remaining. MSU threw a lob up to senior center Marcus Bingham Jr., who was fouled in the air, but Bingham missed the front end of the one-and-one and could not force overtime.
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