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Michigan State survives tough road test at Northwestern, 73-67.

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The Spartans were sluggish in the first half and survived a foul-filled second half to earn the road win and improve to 3-0 in Big Ten Conference play.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team survived a sluggish first half and a foul-marred second half to earn a tough 73-67 win on the road over the Northwestern Wildcats.

Senior forward Gabe Brown led all players with 20 points, hitting on five of his 11 shots, including making three of his seven attempts from deep. Senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. chipped in 13 points and nine rebounds. Junior forward Joey Hauser was also close to a double-double with 10 points and nine boards, as was freshman guard Max Christie with 11 points and seven rebounds.

The Spartans committed 15 turnovers and just edged out the Wildcats on the boards, grabbing 42 rebounds to NU’s 41. Overall, MSU shot just 39 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point distance, but were able to limit the Wildcats to just 32 percent shooting overall and 21 percent from deep.

At the beginning of the game, the big news was that the Spartans appeared to be back at full strength with Christie and Bingham back in the starting lineup after missing the previous game against High Point due to COVID-19 protocols.

The teams traded baskets in early action, but the Spartans appeared sluggish and struggled to rotate on defense and rebound. Michigan State was also cold from three-point range, hitting only one of its first 10 attempts in the first half.

The Spartans clamped down on defense after the under 12-minute timeout in the first half, but so did the Wildcats. The Spartans missed several shots right at the rim and struggled to take advantage of a long Northwestern scoring drought. Then, the Wildcats were able to break their drought and go on a 10-2 run. The Spartans found themselves down by as many as 13 points with three minutes to play in the first stanza.

However, in the final minutes of the first half, point guard A.J. Hoggard provided a spark to the Spartan offense. First, he found Julius Marble on a fast-break dunk. Then, he hit a floater in the lane and followed it up with a pair of free throws to get the lead under 10 points.

At the half, the Spartans trailed by seven points, 33-to-26. The Spartans shot only 33 percent from the field and 10 percent from three-point distance in the first 20 minutes. The Spartans committed nine first half turnovers and were out-rebounded 26-to-18. However, the Spartans did have five steals and five blocks, and limited the Wildcats to just 34 percent shooting, which helps explain why Northwestern’s lead was not higher at the half.

Bingham led the Spartans with eight points at the half, but he left the game after appearing to hurt knee just before halftime. It was a scary moment for the Spartans, but Bingham returned in the second half and seemed to be at full strength.

Brown had five points at the half, and no other Spartan had more than four. Starting point guard Tyson Walker seemed out of sync the entire game. He did not make a shot on five field goal attempts, and scored zero points, but did have four assists and two steals. Walker fouled out in the final minutes of the game.

The Spartans opened the second half with a bit more energy and aggression, especially from Christie. He opened the scoring in the second half for the Spartans with two free throws and followed it up with a three-pointer. Hauser then chipped in another three-point basket to cut the lead to just one point. On the next possession, Brown hit a jumper in transition to give MSU a 36-35 lead with 17 minutes to play, the Spartans’ first lead since the score was 12-11.

Northwestern head coach Chris Collins called a timeout to settle down his team. The Wildcats then scored four-straight points to regain the lead, 39-36, at the first media timeout of the second half. The teams then traded baskets until a strange sequence where Hauser was whistled for a defensive foul, despite being hit in the face by a Wildcat.

After video review, Northwestern was assessed with a flagrant-one foul. Hauser hit both freebies to give MSU back the lead, 45-44. A pair of corner three-pointers from Brown extended the MSU lead to 51-44 at the midway point of the second half.

With eight minutes remaining, the Spartans led by six points when Brown turned the ball over, which led to a Wildcat transition three. On the following possession, Hauser was called for traveling, giving the ball back to Northwestern with Michigan State clinging to just a 56-53 lead.

The next several possessions essentially became a free-throw shooting contest for both teams. The Wildcats were able to tie the score from the line 57-all with 5:47 minutes to play, despite not hitting any shots from the field for several minutes.

Then, once again, Hoggard provided an offensive spark. On two consecutive possessions, Hoggard drew a foul, the second of which was an “and-one” play. Then, Bingham scored and was fouled to extend the lead to 65-57 with just 4:23 to play.

But, the officials Wildcats were not done. The final five minutes of the game were marred by a constant parade to the foul line by both teams. With under one minute to play, Brown hit his third triple of the day to give the Spartans a 68-63 lead. The Spartans were then able to protect the ball and hit enough free throws to secure the win, with the score going final at 73-67.

With the victory, Michigan State moves to 3-0 in Big Ten and 12-2 overall. MSU has now won seven games in a row.

Next up for the Spartans is a date with the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Wednesday, Jan. 5 in the friendly confines of the Jack Breslin Student Events center. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be aired on the Big Ten Network.