Michigan State had a chance to climb to .500 in Big Ten play on Sunday night with a visit to the Northwestern Wildcats. And the game started off according to script with Tyson Walker sinking a three on the game’s opening shot. The two teams kept it close for the first ten minutes, with the lead going back and forth several times. MSU opened up a four point lead right about halfway through the half. But right after the under-8 commercial, famed Spartan-slayer Boo Buie hit a jumper to put the home team up 26-24.
For the rest of the half, Northwestern really clamped down on defense, forcing a number of Spartan turnovers, and also took advantage of some fortuitous bounces on their offensive end. By the time the two teams headed to the locker rooms, Northwestern had jumped to a fifteen point lead, 46-31.
In the second half, the Wildcats’ lead got as large as 19. The closest MSU could get it was 11. MSU never managed to go on a sustained run, often with self-inflicted wounds quelling any short-lived momentum they gained.
Northwestern’s run of success against Michigan State continues, with the Spartans falling by a final of 88-74. More significantly, MSU is now 1-3 in Big Ten play. All the goodwill that was earned during that five-game win streak feels gone. I had thought that a win in this game could have nudged MSU back into the top 25, but we can forget about that for a while again.
Let’s get to my lists and then move on from this game.
3 Things I Liked:
- Going inside early. In the first half, the Spartans fed Mady Sissoko down low on two of their first four possessions. He went 1 for 2 on his shots on those possessions, plus he collected an offensive rebound on another one of those possessions and immediately went back up to draw a shooting foul. It was obvious early that Sissoko wanted to fill his stat sheet. To start the second half, Sissoko got the ball in the post on the first possession, and he scored the basket. On the second possession, they tried to feed him again and he drew a foul, though not of the shooting variety. They actually went to him on three of four possessions to start the second half, and then they looked to feed it to Cooper after his customary early substitution for Mady. For the most part, there were positive results when the ball went inside. This game did not feature as many Butterfingers plays from the two centers as we sometimes see. They combined to go 6-7 from the field, though a few of those were putbacks after offensive rebounds, and scored 17 points on the night.
- Three-point shooting. The uptick in MSU’s three-point shooting percentage has, perhaps, been the biggest contributor to the recent winning streak. Tonight, even though the Spartans did not win, they continued to shoot the deep ball at a high percentage as a team. They were actually shooting it above 50% before a couple late desperation heaves in the final two minutes. They finished 9-19. Maybe they should have shot more from downtown.
- The return of Jaxon Kohler. Not sure this should constitute a line in this article as Jaxon saw maybe sixty seconds of court time, but I need something to get this list to three. Besides, I’ll always be happy to see a Spartan come back from injury. I just hope Jaxon gets rid of that bushy mohawk haircut he was rocking tonight before the next game.
3 Things I Disliked:
- Giving up offensive rebounds. In the first half, Northwestern pulled down eight off their own misses. Surprisingly, MSU matched that stat; it felt very much in the Wildcats’ favor. Those eight offense boards led to eight second chance points for the home team. Many of these came late in the half and were significant in NW getting the halftime lead that they had.
- Careless ball handling. In the first half, MSU lost the ball 10 times. Some of those can be credited to Northwestern’s defense, but most of them were just the Spartans being reckless with the ball. Every starter and seven of the nine players who got minutes before halftime were guilty of coughing it up. The number could have been higher; MSU was lucky not to have had more turnovers. With just under two minutes to go in the first half, Hoggard started pushing up court. He put the ball behind his back and it got away from him. Had a defender been in place, it would have been an easy steal. Fortunately, he was able to catch up to the ball and got the basket and the foul. But on the very next play, right after he stole the ball and had a chance to lead another break, Hoggard threw the ball away right to a NW player. Seconds later, the home team nailed a three pointer to regain a ten-point lead. Northwestern had 17 points off turnovers just in the first half. While their ball security improved after halftime, the damage had already been done and MSU never even got the game back to single digits.
- Malik Hall not involved. Hall had one FGA and zero FTAs in the first half. He also had no assists. In the second half, he started looking for his shot more, but it was not there and he soon stopped trying to get his. After having his best game of the year, Hall had a bagel in this one.
- Bonus: Losing their cool. Tyson Walker got called for a technical foul five minutes into the second half for running his mouth to one of the NW players. At this point, the deficit was already 16 points and the ensuing technical free throws allowed the Wildcats to make it 18. That was when I lost hope of a comeback.
Hopefully we get the Spartan team from the five-game win streak when they go to Illinois in four days.