EVANSTON-Northwestern hung tough with the No. 4-ranked Michigan State Spartans for much of the night, but the Cats couldn't quite pull out a win, falling 54-40.
Here are WildcatReport's rapid reactions following a solid performance from the Cats against one of the nation's best.
Did you see that? Sanjay Lumpkin swats Denzel Valentine. Just a few minutes into the second half, things looked like they might get out of hand. With the Spartans already up six, a Keith Appling steal gave Valentine a clean path to the basket. That is, until Lumpkin showed up. Lumpkin blocked Valentine's shot with authority and gave the Cats the chance to fly back down the court on a fast break of their own. When Kale Abrahamson buried a three, the roof of Welsh-Ryan threatened to come off.
Offensive player of the game: Tre Demps. There definitely wasn't a runaway winner in this category. At many times ion the second half, Northwestern struggled to score and often didn't really seem to have a playmaker willing to step up. JerShon Cobb didn't score in the second half, and Drew Crawford struggled, too. Demps was the exception. He consistently looked for his shot, as he's known to do, and he ended up leading the team with 12 points. Sure, he forced a few shots in the final minutes of the game, but he didn't have much help.
Defensive player of the game: Lumpkin. He made hustle-play after hustle-play on the night, and his two big blocks sent a message that Northwestern wasn't going to back down against a superior Michigan State team. Lumpkin also grabbed six boards on the evening.
Turning point: With 9:41 left in the second half and the Spartans up five points, Kenny Kaminski grabbed an offensive board off a Gary Harris miss and fed the ball back to Harris, who laid the ball in for two points. The bucket pushed the lead to seven, and the Cats wouldn't get that close again. The Spartans ended up winning by 13, as the Cats didn't have enough to keep pace.
Atmosphere: For the second straight game, Welsh-Ryan Arena was filled almost to capacity. The students took a while to file in, but by the time the game was in full swing there was quite a bit of purple behind both baskets. Football coach Pat Fitzgerald was in attendance, and quite a few football players joined him at the game. The rest of the arena, however, was fairly green. For much of the second half, "Go Green, Go White," rang through the arena.
Key stat: Second-chance points. Northwestern grabbed 11 offensive rebounds on the night, which was higher than the Cats' season average of 8.4 per game. The problem for the Cats, though, was that they didn't do anything with those opportunities. Despite all those extra possessions, they only managed to score two second-chance points. In a game decided by 14 points, that was the difference.
Where was he? In the biggest games, you expect big play from a team's star player. In yet another disappearing act, however, Crawford was simply nowhere to be found. He ended up with just six points on 1-for-8 shooting and grabbed only five boards. Worse for Northwestern, however, were his four turnovers. For a supposed star, that sort of performance can't be acceptable.