WildcatReport - Takeaways: Michigan State 73, Northwestern 67
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Takeaways: Michigan State 73, Northwestern 67

EVANSTON-Northwestern had its shot to beat No. 10 Michigan State on Sunday.

Despite shooting less than 30% and hitting just one of 10 three-pointers in the second half. Despite the fact that leading scorer Pete Nance fouled out with 3:05 left. Despite Nance, Chase Audige and Boo Buie shooting a combined 10-for-40. After all of that, the Wildcats still had the ball, down by two, 65-63, with two minutes left.

But Chase Audige missed an open three-pointer that would have given the Wildcats the lead with 1:15 left. Then, MSU’s Gabe Brown hit his three from the wing on a broken play with 49 seconds to go.

That sequence wound up deciding the game.

Michigan State outscored Northwestern 47-34 in the second half to post a 73-67 win over the Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena. It was the seventh straight win for the Spartans, while the loss snapped Northwestern’s three-game winning streak.

The loss was also Northwestern’s 13th in the last 14 matchups against the Spartans.

Head coach Chris Collins was satisfied with the look that Audige got, even if he didn’t like the result.

"I thought we executed it really well,” said Collins. “Chase decided to take the three, and I’ll live with it... We missed an open one, they made one."

This was a barometer game for the Wildcats after spitting their first four games against Power Six teams this season. It was a tough, physical game, with both teams combining for 49 fouls and 63 free-throw attempts.

Northwestern came out gunning from long range, as six of their first eight shots were from beyond the arc. Robbie Beran hit one bomb and Ty Berry two as the Wildcats built an 11-7 lead at the first timeout.

The Spartans came back to take the lead, but then Northwestern took control with a 7-0 run, topped by a Nance 3-pointer, to take a 26-16 advantage. The Wildcats’ lead reached 13, 31-18, on a driving layup by Nance before MSU’s A.J. Haggard scored four straight points on a jumper and two free throws to cut NU’s lead to 33-26 at the break.

While Northwestern took 20 minutes to build their halftime lead, it took the Spartans less than three minutes to wipe it out. Max Christie and Joey Hauser both hit three-pointers as the Spartans started the second half on a 10-2 run to regain the lead at 36-35.

Nance, who had been quiet to that point, answered with back-to-back baskets. After a Buie-to-Casey Simmons alley-oop, NU’s lead was back to four, at 42-38.

Michigan State came right back with an 11-0 run, with two Brown three-pointers doing the heavy damage, to take a 51-44 lead with 10:18 left. The Spartans got their edge up to eight points before NU made its run. After Buie hit one of two free throws, the Wildcats had knotted the score at 57 with 5:47 left.

Michigan State then flexed its muscle. First, Hoggard and then Marcus Bingham drove to the rim for contested layups and drew fouls. Their three-point plays got the Spartan lead back to eight, at 65-57, with 4:23 left before the Wildcats’ last rally, in which they scored six straight points from the foul line to set the stage for Brown’s decisive three.

After that, MSU hit five of six free throws to close out the win.

Nance scored 13 points to lead Northwestern, while Audige and Buie each went for 12 and Young had 11.

Brown paced the Spartans, scoring 15 of his game-high 20 points in the second half.

Here are our takeaways from a loss that dropped Northwestern’s record to 9-3 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten:

Both teams looked rusty: Northwestern had played just one game over the previous 26 days because of COVID cancellations, while the Spartans had played one contest in the last 20. That layoff was evident, especially in the first half, when the two teams combined for 17 turnovers.

The normally sure-handed Wildcats had six turnovers in the first 13 minutes and finished with eight for the half. Things got much better in the second, as Northwestern turned the ball over just once. Ryan Green “led” the Wildcats with four TOs.

Michigan State had nine giveaways in the first half, including three traveling calls. The Spartans finished with 15, with Brown collecting four.

Neither team shot the ball particularly well, either. Michigan State was 1-of-10 from beyond the arc in the first half, while Northwestern duplicated the feat in the second.

MSU’s Marcus Bingham admitted that the Spartans were ragged in the first half, but Young didn’t blame the long layoff for his team’s struggles.

“We shot poorly, obviously, but I didn’t feel too rusty,” he said.

Cats lost another close one: Northwestern is now 2-3 against Power Six teams, with all three losses coming by single digits. They lost to Providence by five, Wake Forest by four and now Michigan State by six. They also posted a six-point win over Maryland.

Collins thought that his team got a little tired midway through the second half against the deep and physical Spartans, which is why MSU went on an 11-0 run to take the lead for good.

Young and Nance echoed that sentiment, saying that it wasn’t necessarily their play in crunch time that cost them the game.

“We made a lot of good plays down the stretch to get in position to win the game,” said Young. Instead, he blames “lapses” they had in both the first and second half, when MSU was able to get out in transition and score. That’s the bread-and-butter of the Spartan program and what the Wildcats were focused on stopping.

“It’s not our execution at the end of the game but throughout the game,” said Nance.

It was a homecoming for MSU’s Christie: Christie, a Spartan freshman guard, called Northwestern and Welsh-Ryan Arena his second home on Sunday. He wound up with 11 points and seven rebounds in a team-high 34 minutes, and hit two big three-pointers.

A former five-star recruit in the Class of 2021, Christie turned down a chance to play at Northwestern, where his mother, Katrina, was a 1,000-point scorer for the Wildcats, to go to MSU. Collins calls himself a fan of Christie’s. He’s known the dynamic 6-foot-6 rookie since he was in sixth grade.

While Collins recruited him hard and would have loved to have coached him at Northwestern, he can’t fault Christie for deciding to play for Spartan coaching legend Tom Izzo.

“I love Max,” he said. “He’s a heckuva player. He’s an even better kid. Not today, but I cheer for him to do well because of him and his family.”