Takeaways: Northwestern 64, No. 10 Michigan State 62
It’s difficult to overstate what a monstrous win Saturday’s 64-62 defeat of No. 10 Michigan State was for Northwestern.
Everything seemed to be stacked against the Wildcats on Saturday in East Lansing. They were playing without leading scorer and rebounder Pete Nance, as well as key role player Elyjah Williams. They were battling a Spartan team that had beaten them 13 of 14 times, including less than two weeks ago in Evanston. They had lost eight in a row at the Breslin Center. They were coming off of four straight losses, all of them by eight points or fewer, including three at home.
Yet somehow, some way, Northwestern pulled out a gutty two-point win – overcoming both the Spartans and some questionable calls that went against them in the closing seconds – in what may be head coach Chris Collins’ most impressive win in his eight years at Northwestern.
Simply put, this one was all heart. Even though they were outmanned, the Wildcats outcoached, outhustled and outplayed the Spartans for 40 minutes.
Center Ryan Young was the horse the Wildcats rode down the stretch. He led Northwestern with 18 points and eight rebounds, getting 13 and six of them, respectively, in the second half. Chase Audige scored 14 points and Boo Buie 12.
Julius Marble had 18 points to lead the Spartans, who saw their nine-game winning streak snapped.
Northwestern took advantage of hot three-point shooting, strong rebounding and a lot of Michigan State turnovers to forge a 38-33 lead at halftime.
Twice Chase Audige and Robbie Beran hit back-to-back three-pointers, as the Wildcats drained 7-of-13 (53.8%) from beyond the arc in the opening period. Despite missing Nance, Northwestern had an 18-15 advantage in rebounds, led by four from Matt Nicholson, who was forced into extended minutes for the first time all season.
The Wildcats were helped by 12 first-half turnovers by the Spartans, but Northwestern’s defense had a lot to do with that: they came up with seven steals, including two apiece by Boo Buie and Audige.
Northwestern’s offense went stagnant in the second half, as the Wildcats made just one of 13 shots from long distance. They went through a five-minute scoreless streak and Michigan State went on a 9-0 run to take a 48-46 lead with 11:16 to go.
With the perimeter offense drying up, it was Young who came through inside. He scored back-to-back baskets in the lane, the second one an and-one, to give the Wildcats a 51-50 lead,. Northwestern's 11-2 run gave them a 57-52 edge.
A Malik Hall four-point play cut the advantage to one, but the Spartans could get no closer as Northwestern, which had lost six of its last 29 games decided by six points or less coming into the game, closed out the win this time around.
With the Cats clinging to a 64-62 lead, the Spartans had two chances to pull even or take the lead in the closing minute. But Hall missed a three-pointer with four seconds left. Then, after a travel call against the Wildcats and a foul call against Beran on an inbounds play, Marcus Bingham missed a free throw. Julian Roper grabbed the rebound to close out the victory.
Here are our takeaways from the victory that raised Northwestern’s record to 9-6 overall and 2-4 in Big Ten play:
Collins’ most impressive win: Collins may have had bigger wins – beating Michigan to clinch the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament bid in 2017 is probably the standard – but this one was his most impressive.
The Wildcats hadn’t won a game at the Breslin Center since 2009, when Kevin Coble poured in 31 points to upset the Spartans. Already overmatched by the team that beat them 73-67 on Jan. 2, they were playing without Nance, who was hurt late in Wednesday night’s loss to Maryland, and Williams. Beyond Young and Nicholson, who played 13 minutes, Northwestern had no big men.
They were coming off of four straight Big Ten losses, three of them at home, and all in painful fashion. Yet they played tenacious defense and came up with just enough offense – their 64 points were 23 fewer than they scored in their last outings, both losses – to snatch would could be a season-altering win.
The Cats had to sweat it out: As if beating Michigan State without Nance weren’t enough, the Wildcats had to overcome some 50/50 calls that went against them in the closing seconds.
After Hall’s missed a three-pointer with four seconds left. Beran came down with the rebound. The game looked all but over at that point, but Buie tried to grab the ball from Beran, who shuffled his feet. He was whistled for traveling, giving the Spartans another shot to tie it.
Then, after an official review put one second on the game clock, Beran was called for a foul on Bingham in the lane before the ball was inbounded. But Bingham missed the first shot of his one-and-one, and Roper came down with the ball to clinch the win.
It was an agonizing few moments for a Wildcat team that has had more than its share of late-game failures over the last few seasons.
Young was the hero: With Northwestern’s offense spinning its wheels in the second half, it was Young who got them out of the mud.
The junior big man stood tall in the second half, hitting 4-of-8 shots from the floor and 6-of-8 from the line for 13 points. After Michigan State went on an 11-0 run to take the lead, the Wildcats got the ball to Young, who made two consecutive baskets inside, adding a free throw after the second one, to get the Wildcats the lead back. He repeatedly muscled the ball up inside through contact, resulting in a shot at the rim or a foul call.
Young was the only consistent offense for the Wildcats, who hit just 5-of-25 shots (20%) without him in the second half.
The Cats beat the Spartans on the glass: One of the trademarks of Michigan State basketball is strong rebounding. It’s also one of Northwestern’s traditional Achilles’ heels.
Yet the Wildcats outrebounded the Spartans in this one, 40-35. Where they did the most damage was on the offensive end, where they outboarded the bigger Spartans 17-8. As a result, Northwestern took 15 more shots than Michigan State, a key factor when the Wildcats shot just 34.8% for the game.
Free throws almost killed the Cats: Missed free throws cost the Wildcats chances to win some of those close games already this season, and they almost came back to bite them on Saturday.
Northwestern made just 10 of 17 shots from the charity stripe for the game, leaving seven points on the floor in a what turned out to be a two-point game. That 58.8% average is 17% lower than their 75.8% mark heading into the game.
Michigan State, on the other hand, was money from the line, hitting 12 of 14 (85.7%).
Still, you have to give the Wildcats credit: they made all five of their attempts in the final 3:36, while Bingham missed the front-end of a one-and-one that could’ve tied the game in the final second.