Michigan State 85, Northwestern 70 - Payne and Gain

Pictured: five seconds before a 3.0 earthquake shook the East Lansing area. - Leon Halip

Another game without Keith Appling and Branden Dawson was no problem for the Spartans, as the offense was in top form in a victory over the Wildcats.

Halfway through the first half, it looked like Michigan State was going to get Coble'd again. JerShon Cobb was sinking everything from behind 20 feet, giving life to a Wildcats offense that had looked moribund for months. If the Wildcats kept up the scoring and played their newfound stingy defense, it could be 2009 all over again.

And in a way, it was 2009, in that while the Wildcats did keep up the scoring, their 2014 defense was nowhere to be found.  The Spartans' outside shooting returned after a lacking performance in Madison, as MSU went 11-21 from behind the arc. Michigan State's heat reached its peak at the start of the second half:

In a night where the Wildcats' offense was working well enough to pull off the upset and get their fourth straight road win (Northwestern basketball had not won four straight on the road SINCE 1930), the Green and White stopped the Wildcats any time they tried to make a run, and cruised to a victory that covered the 14 point spread.

Here is the four factors graph:

Msu_nw_4fac_13feb2014

That's a prototypical Tom Izzo team line if I ever saw one, minus the turnover percentage below 20%.  Granted Northwestern shot better than normal tonight (46.0 was their eFG% coming into tonight, one of the worst 50 in Division 10), but offensive rebounding was the big difference in the game.

And here are your player bullets:

  • Adreian Payne - 20 points (6-11 FG, 2-4 from three), 14 boards (4 offensive boards), 3 assists. Granted he was playing against Alex Olah, but Payne still put in a dominant performance around the basket.
  • Denzel Valentine - 16 points (6-10 FG, 3-3 from three), 5 boards (three offensive boards), 6 assists, 1 turnover. Possibly Denzel's most efficient night as a Spartan, as he once again flirted with a triple-double. Let's hope the hot shooting wasn't a one-off performance.
  • Gary Harris - 14 points (6-13 FG, 2-4 from three), 3 assists. Harris was saddled with foul trouble most of the night, but still managed a good bounce-back performance against Wisconsin. It may have looked a bit rough at times, but I don't think Harris is really in a slump per se - I think as Spartan fans, we got spoiled a bit to him going for 25 points on excellent shooting (I know I did).
  • Travis Trice - 11 points (4-9 FG, 3-6 from three), 6 assists, zero turnovers. Trice hasn't committed a turnover in three straight games.  If he was a touch more grittier he'd be Aaron Craft, except that Trice can shoot.
  • Matt Costello - 9 points (4-5 FG), 4 boards. I expected Costello to have a couple more rebounds in this game. I definitely not expect Costello to leave a Northwestern post player in the dust on his way to a lay-up. His offensive play is maturing by the game.
  • Kenny Kaminski - 8 points (4-7 FG, 0-2 from three), five boards (three offensive boards). Farewell Kenny "The Three-Point Maker" Kaminski, hello Kenny "The Lay-up Maker" Kaminski.  Scored all eight of his points in the paint AND had three offensive boards to boot.
  • Keenan Wetzel - 2 points (1-2 FG). Turned a 13-point game into a 15-point game when the spread was -14, thus saving his second cover for Spartan-centric gamblers in less than two weeks.
This was the first of three games the Spartans needed to win before Michigan in a week and a half, and while Michigan has to deal with Wisconsin in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Michigan State faces a frisky Nebraska team that has beaten Ohio State this year.  Let's hope for a one-game lead for the Spartans in the Big Ten 72 hours from now.
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