INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - There wasn't enough magic left for a second miracle, as the physical Michigan State Spartans pushed Northwestern around and came away with a 67-51 win.
For the final time this season, here are WildcatReport's rapid reactions.
Did you see that? Kale Abrahamson's long three. Like many other times in this tournament, this was a desperation shot right at the end of the shot clock. Michigan State had a 10-5 lead early in the first half. Tre Demps, who may have dribbled more than the entire Michigan State team in this game, was trying to create with just a few seconds in the shot clock. He drove the lane and dished to Nikola Cerina, who kicked it out to Abrahamson five or six feet beyond the arc. He chucked it up over Denzel Valentine, and it swished cleanly, cutting the deficit to 10-8.
Honorable mention: Gary Harris' tough up-and-under layup in the second half. This was really the best play of the night, but let's make Northwestern the winner of at least something.
Offensive player of the game: Drew Crawford. In all likelihood, it was the last game of his college career. It's only fitting that he was the best player on the floor for Northwestern, as he has been so many times. With his first field goal, he passed Billy McKinney for the second-place spot on Northwestern's all-time scoring list, but he wasn't done there. He came on very strong in the second half, playing like a guy who knew he wouldn't be putting on the Northwestern jersey anymore. He took guys one-on-one and created space unlike any other Wildcats were able to do. Crawford finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting.
Defensive player of the game: Tre Demps. He's clearly an offensive-minded player, but Demps has steadily improved on the defensive end throughout the year. He finished with seven rebounds, a team high, and finished possessions by attacking the boards like he rarely ever did last season. And while guarding Michigan State's ultra-quick perimeter players, he worked hard to fight over screens and stay in front. He's not the best defender on the team right now, but he's definitely one of the most improved.
Key stat: Eight scholarship guys. That's how many the Wildcats had available at the end of the season. And of those eight, Chris Collins only utilized seven consistently over the two games of the Big Ten Tournament. Collins said afterward that in the huddle, it was tough to talk to them because of how they were gasping for air. Seven guys may have been enough to squeak by Iowa, but going against Michigan State 24 hours later was too much to ask.
X's and O's: The pick-and-roll is a major part of both Michigan State and Northwestern's offenses, and the way it was defended tells a lot about how this game went. When the Spartans would set a ball screen, the defender on the ball would fight over the screen, but the man covering the screener (usually Alex Olah) would be backpedaling, trying not to get beat off the dribble. With the big man off balance, Michigan State's ball-handler could either take it right at him or hit the roller in the short corner.
Conversely, when Northwestern would set a ball screen, both defenders would fight through and converge on the ball-handler aggressively. The three other defenders would shift over to help, and the only Wildcat open would be the farthest guy away. Instead of using the screen to attack the basket, NU would end up just being pushed back farther from the hoop.
Atmosphere: As you could have expected, it was a pretty pro-MSU crowd, but maybe my view was obscured by the fact that some very enthusiastic family members and friends of the Spartans were right behind me. They had quite a bit to cheer about. There were small collections of purple-clad fans scattered throughout Bankers Life Fieldhouse, but not enough to sound significant. By halftime, the fans of other Big Ten schools who had stayed hoping to see a good game began to pour out. It was a pretty sad crowd by the time the beat down was over.