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MSU 84, Northwestern 77 (OT): Living on the Edge

The WIldcats' hot shooting from behind the arc nearly led to a big upset, but shut-down defense in the extra session and good free throw shooting closed it out.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Early on, this game looked like the laugher we were all hoping for. Michigan State led 23-9 after a Bryn Forbes four-point play just under nine minutes into the game. And then Northwestern hit 6 of 8 from behind the arc over the next 10 minutes to take a 39-36 lead just before halftime. This wasn't a case of Kevin Coble or Talor Battle going berserk from 27 feet out, either; these were mostly open looks created by some less-than-stellar defense.

Entering the break at 40-all and with Denzel Valentine on the bench to start the second half due to what appeared to be some sort of illness (Tom Izzo commented during the post-game press conference that he and Matt Costello both looked out of sorts during the game and are going to get checked out), Northwestern rode continued hot shooting to a 53-49 lead seven minutes into the second half. But a steal and thunderous fast break dunk by Branden Dawson moments later fired up the crowd, and with seven minutes to go MSU led 66-55 and looked to be well on their way to a win. Tre Demps was not done, however, scoring 10 points during a 13-2 Northwestern run to tie the game at 68. Alex Olah and Valentine traded baskets, then Northwestern got two offensive rebounds (after having only one in the entire game to that point) and a bail-out foul by Forbes sent Demps to the free throw line, giving Northwestern the lead with 28 seconds left. However, Valentine answered with two free throws of his own after a similar (but, in my admittedly biased eyes, slightly less dubious) foul at the other end, and Demps's buzzer-beater missed.

In overtime, the Spartans' defense tightened up, forcing one shot clock violation, another bad shot at the buzzer, and a block while converting three possessions in a row to take a six-point lead before the foul parade began. And despite awful free throw shooting early in the game (8 of 14 in the first 29 minutes), the Spartans closed it out from the line with ease down the stretch, hitting 11 of 12 from the 11-minute mark in the second half on, including 6 of 6 in overtime.

Four factors:

eFG: NW 58%, MSU 52%. Both teams cooled off a little after a torrid first half. The big difference here is Northwestern's 12 made three-pointers (on 25 attempts); MSU was just 3 for 11 behind the arc. For Northwestern, JerShon Cobb was a big factor in this in the first half, finishing the day a perfect 5 for 5 (two from deep), all in the first half. Bryant McIntosh and Demps finished as Northwestern's leading scorers but needed more shots to do it (18 points on 16 shots + 4 FTs and 17 on 13 + 4, respectively). For MSU, it was a balanced attack: all five starters reached double figures, with Travis Trice (18 on 12 FGs and 10 FTs) and Valentine (17 on 13 and 4) leading the way. Trice added 10 assists for a double-double.

OR: MSU 31%, NW 25%. MSU utterly dominated the glass early, not allowing a single offensive rebound until 4:05 remained in the second half. Northwestern got some timely offensive rebounds late off of long shots tipped out which made this much closer (four of their seven offensive rebounds went to guards). Dawson led the way with nine rebounds (four on offense).

Turnovers: MSU 10%, NW 20% (70 possessions). This was even at four each in the first half; the second half and overtime favored MSU 10-3.

Free throw rate: MSU 0.42 (73% shooting), NW 0.29 (81%). Not skewed too badly by the OT foul parade; that accounts for only four attempts by MSU, and Northwestern had another 2 in garbage time themselves. After a very cold start from the line, MSU recovered to close out the game. For a team that has struggled with free throws and closing out games, it's a very good sign that they were able to hit them late.