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Oh, We're Halfway There: Michigan State 79, Northwestern 70

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To start off, let's take a moment to reflect on how good it is to be done playing against John Shurna this year (absent a Big Ten Tournament match-up).  In two games against MSU this season, Shurna scored 60 points on 43 field goal attempts.  Put that together with the 48 points Kevin Coble scored in the two games between MSU and Northwestern last season and you might start to think the Wildcats have some sort perpetual inherent advantage at the 4 spot.

Thankfully, MSU had the advantage almost everywhere else on the court tonight, pulling away early in the second half to build a 14-point lead that got squeezed down a bit in the final few minutes of the game.  In a game that only featured 63 possessions, the Spartans did nearly everything well on offense, posting an offensive efficiency mark over 1.20 for the second straight time vs. Northwestern.

MSU made 64.9% of their 2-point attempts, hitting mid-range jumpers, scoring in transition, and converting second-chance points.  Those second-chance points were fueled by an offensive rebounding percentage of 41.9%.  They got to the free throw line 31 times, with a large chunk of those attempts coming in the final 2 minutes as the Wildcats tried to mount a miraculous comeback.  Last, but not least, MSU turned it over on just 15.9% of their possessions, as the Northwestern 1-3-1 failed to fluster them.

The one thing the Spartans didn't do well on offense was make shots from beyond the arc, shooting just 3-15 from three-point range.  If they'd found their 3-point strokes earlier, this game's final margin would likely have been closer to 20 than to 10.

On defense, MSU's efforts were not as stingy as we've become used to.  At 111.1, the Wildcats posted the second highest efficiency mark of any MSU opponent this season, behind only North Carolina.  Most of that has to be attributed to Shurna, as his teammates combined to shoot an unremarkable 5-14 on 3-pointers and a mediocre 7-17 on 2-pointers.

MSU player bullets (official box score is here):

  • Durrell Summers: 24 points on 13 FGA, 10 rebounds (4 on offense).  His scoring feats included at least three authoritative dunks and one offensive putback that involved hanging in the air for what seemed like 3 full seconds.  Made 2 of MSU's 3 three-pointers--plus at least one really long 2-pointer.
  • Kalin Lucas: 23 points on 11 FGA, 4 assists, zero turnovers.  Close to flawless.
  • Delvon Roe: 13 points on 4 FGA, 4 rebounds, 3 steals.  Asserted himself on offense; sent Luka Mirkovich to the bench early.
  • Draymond Green: 9 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal.  Day-Day being Day-Day.  Another awkward landing on his knee; could do without any more of those.
  • Chris Allen: 3-point stroke was missing (0-3) but posted 6 points, 4 assists, and 1 turnover--and one tomahawk dunk.  Made good decisions with the ball against the 1-3-1.  Tom Izzo continues to trust Allen more and more to handle the ball up top, allowing Lucas more freedom to play off the ball.
  • Korie Lucious: Scored just 2 points (on free throws).  4 assists vs. 2 turnovers, which is acceptable; 0-7 from 3-point range in his last 3 games.
  • Raymar Morgan: U-G-L-Y.  Scoreless on 5 FGA; zero assists vs. 2 turnovers; fouled out in just 16 minutes.  Needs to mentally burn the video tape on this one.
  • Garrick Sherman: Seems like Sherman is regressing, although you don't want to make too much out of 8 minutes.  Bad over-the-back foul; looks more tentative with the ball than he did earlier in the year.
  • Derrick Nix: Not much to write about in 5 minutes.  Showed nice down-the-court vision on an outlet pass to Kalin Lucas that led to a foul.

So we've finished the front nine with nary a bogey on our score sheet.  Being a full 3 games up on the league halfway through the schedule, a failure to win the Big Ten championship would be a major disappoint, to say the least.

Things do a get quite a bit tougher in the second half of the conference slate, though.  To date, we've only played one game against the group of three teams still within striking distance of us (Purdue, Ohio State, and Wisconsin--yes, I'm dismissing Illinois as a contender).  Four games remain against that trio.

The first of those is next Tuesday night in the unfriendly confines of Kohl Center (9:00, ESPN).  Win that one and maybe I'll stop writing about how, despite the fact we're undefeated in Big Ten play, the universe remains stacked against us.