Michigan State opened conference play with a dud of a performance at Northwestern, falling 79-65. The Spartans struggled from the opening tip and were outplayed by the Wildcats for most of the game.
Spartan killer Boo Buie was once again on fire against MSU, going off for 30 points and making nine of his 15 shots, after scoring 26 points in the meeting at Evanston last year.
On the flip side, the Spartan starting lineup struggled mightily, scoring just 32 total points. Rocket Watts missed his first nine shots and finished with just five points. Aaron Henry had an uneven performance and never seemed to get into a rhythm.
It was an especially disappointing performance considering Michigan State had an entire week off to practice and work on things since their last game. The result was a disjointed effort on both ends of the floor.
Missed layups and open three-pointers plagued the offense throughout the game, especially in the first half. MSU finished the game just eight-of-31 (25.8 percent) from three.
Northwestern was able to run its game plan on offense for most of the game, especially in the first half to help build a 13-point halftime lead. The Wildcats spaced the floor, found the open man, and got good looks in transition while MSU was slow to react and communicate on defense.
Things looked especially bleak when Joey Hauser left the game in the first half after banging knees with a Northwestern player. He did return during the second half and finished with five points.
Of the few bright spots for the Spartans was the play of Malik Hall and Julius Marble. The two bigs gave some solid minutes and energy and helped spark the few runs that the Spartans had. Hall finished with 10 points and a team high nine rebounds.
At the end of the day though, it is tough to win when your best players play poorly, and that was the case tonight.
Credit Northwestern for being ready to play and punching MSU in the mouth right out of the gate. The Spartans never collected themselves and Northwestern kept the pressure on all game.
The win for the Wildcats was their first over a top-five opponent since they knocked off Magic Johnson’s MSU team all the way back in 1979. That one ended up working out nicely for the Spartans.
The Spartans will need to regroup quickly, as they face 12th ranked Wisconsin on Christmas later this week. MSU will need to figure things out if they want to avoid an 0-2 start in conference play as they look to win a fourth straight Big Ten title.
My guess is that Tom Izzo will not be in a very jolly mood this week.