There’s less than a minute remaining in the second half and Northwestern senior guard Boo Buie (who has a habit of picking apart the Spartans) has the ball. Just a few seconds ago, a layup from Michigan State’s junior guard A.J. Hoggard had sliced Northwestern’s lead down to just 64-63.
With the Breslin Center rocking and the Spartans ready to finally complete the comeback, the Wildcats desperately need a bucket to silence the crowd and keep the game out of reach.
Calm, cool and collected, Buie heads to the basket after taking some precious seconds off the clock and finishes with a dagger of a layup. It’s 66-63 Northwestern.
Now, let’s juxtapose that with Michigan State’s must-score moments.
After trailing for the entire half, the Spartans clawed their way back to within four points of the visitors with just under five minutes to go. With the clock ticking, it was time for the MSU team that took down Kentucky and Villanova to finally show itself.
Instead, what followed was multiple failed offensive possessions.
Hoggard misses a three-pointer on the first trip to Northwestern’s half of the court. Then, following a turnover from Buie, Hoggard can’t finish a layup. Michigan State rebounds the failed attempt and promptly follows it up with a missed three-pointer from sophomore guard Jaden Akins.
MSU has another opportunity to cut it to a one possession game. Turnover.
Akins has a shot to redeem those miserable offensive series with a shot from beyond the arch. He misses.
Naturally, after all of that, Buie notched a jumper to extend the Wildcats’ lead back to six.
Michigan State seems to be a well-rounded team with a strong defense that can win in a few different ways. However, there’s certainly a few major flaws, and one of them stuck out like a sore thumb against the Wildcats.
Northwestern has a Boo Buie. Michigan State does not.
MSU had every opportunity to fight its way to victory, but nobody was willing, or able, to take over the game.
Now, let’s contextualize this brutal loss a bit.
It’s no secret that Michigan State’s lineup is not at 100%. While Akins made his return to the court against the Wildcats, Izzo said that he is not quite up to speed yet.
“Jaden will not be back to normal for at least two weeks,” Izzo said. “Each day he’ll get a little better.”
And, of course, senior forward Malik Hall is still out of the lineup after suffering a stress fracture. Without Hall in the lineup, Michigan State is 2-3. Those losses include an 11-point loss to No. 18 Alabama, a humiliating blowout at the hands of Notre Dame and, now, the loss to Northwestern.
“Those are two pretty important players,” Izzo said. “Hopefully when we get them back we will become a better team, but in the meantime we’ve got to win games.”
The lineup was dealt yet another blow during the game, as senior guard Tyson Walker found himself in foul trouble early in the second half. At 16:36, Walker committed his fourth personal foul of the game and found himself on the bench for long stretches as the game wound on.
Michigan State’s offense was noticeably altered without Walker’s presence. Possessions just looked a bit more choppy and it looked as though the team lacked the ability to generate open shots and good looks.
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If Michigan State had to pick a few go-to guys, Walker would certainly be near the top of the list. His absence in the latter-half of the match helps explain just how bad the offense looked at times.
But again, that doesn’t change the fact that the Spartans had a bevy of chances to force the comeback. Down four with just under five minutes to go, the offense just couldn’t get the job done.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, they won’t have a chance to sit down and take a breather after an abysmal couple of games. This Wednesday, Michigan State is heading out to Happy Valley to play a Penn State team that has some impressive performances under its belt.
“Malik and Jaden are parts,” Izzo said. “(But) I can’t make excuses and I have to live with reality. The reality is we have to find a way to win some games until we get everybody back.”
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