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Michigan State 67, Northwestern 51: Rapid Reaction

Northwestern’s season came to a rather unceremonious end Friday at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. The Wildcats fell 67-51 to Michigan State in the fourth and final quarterfinal game at Banker’s Life Arena. Here are some quick reactions.

-       The final score is even a little misleading. Northwestern was outclassed from the jump. It didn’t originally seem like NU players were fazed by the big stage, and they stayed with Michigan State for roughly 10 minutes, but then talent and depth started to take over, and eventually shone through. This wasn’t about any one aspect of the game. It wasn’t about not being able to quell momentum, it wasn’t about getting rattled by a big Spartans run. It was a gradual decline for NU, and after awhile, any attempts to turn the game around seemed rather futile.

-       Michigan State attempted 29 first half shots, as opposed to Northwestern’s 19, and this was the biggest reason for the 18-point halftime deficit (40-22). Northwestern actually shot the ball decently, including a 3-7 mark from beyond the arc, but two things killed Chris Collins and his team: defensive rebounding – Sparty’s offensive rebound percentage was 42.9 at the break – and turnovers – NU turned the ball over on 32.3 percent of its first half possessions.

-       This wasn’t all about a poor Northwestern performance. We’ll get the opinions of the coaches after the game, but it seemed that Michigan State played a heck of a game, especially on the defensive end, despite the obvious inferiority of its opposition.

-       The only Northwestern player that arguably played well was Drew Crawford, who finished with 21 points. He stayed aggressive for 40 minutes, and every once in a while he’d make a play that made you think, “hey, Northwestern is [sort of] still in this game.” But he didn’t get anywhere near enough help.

-       Perhaps fatigue and heavy legs finally took their toll. There was a noticeable difference in quickness between the two teams – even more than there usually would be.

-       Crawford had one final “good-bye” moment when Collins took him out of the game in the final minute, and you could see the emotion on his face as he hugged teammates and coaches. Unless a lower-tier postseason tournament berth ensues, this will be the last time he sports a Northwestern jersey.

Postgame notes and quotes:

- Collins on Michigan State's performance: "They played very well, especially in the first half. Their speed and their intensity, them knowing that we played such a hard‑fought game last night, I thought they did exactly what they needed to do by coming out with amazing energy and defensive intensity, and it got us on our heels a little bit early."

- Collins: "Certainly, the two facets that they really hurt us with were the points off our turnovers and then their second‑chance points, which is what they do really well. They do that to a lot of teams."

- Collins: "I'm really proud of my team. We emptied the tank last night in our game against Iowa, [then] had to come back and play, arguably, the best program in this conference. We fought till the end. We got down, and I think these guys showed who they were even until the end."

- Crawford [very emotional]: "It's a tough feeling, just because all the love there is in this program. I care about Coach Collins so much, every single one of my teammates, the entire coaching staff, down to the athletic trainers, our sports performance coaches, our managers.  Everybody just has showed me love since I've been here, and it's been a fight, and we've done it together. It's a tough feeling walking off, but I can say that I walked off happy, feeling like I gave my all to this program.  There's nowhere I'd rather be for my last year, and looking back, I don't regret that decision at all, and I love being a part of this team this year."

- As Collins noted, Crawford Friday became Northwestern's second all-time leading scorer, behind only John Shurna

- Collins [similarly very emotional] on Crawford: "He will no doubt go down as one of the all‑time greats in our program. I'm just sad I only had a chance to coach him for one year. He's a special guy. As we move forward, we're going to constantly talk about what he brought every day as we continue to get better, and as we continue to build our program. He's laid an amazing foundation for the future of this program."

- Izzo and Crawford embraced post game. Here's what they say was said between the two of them:

Izzo: "I just said, 'Hey, you've had a hell of a career, and I'm really proud of you. I'm glad you stayed.' I told him that. I think that kid could play some basketball beyond college, I really do. Wherever it is, I said, 'if I can ever be of any help, call me.'"

Crawford: "I just told him it's been an honor playing against his teams for five years. It means a lot that he's always respected me as a player, so it was nice to send it off that way."

- Izzo on Crawford in general: "He's one of those kids in the league that it's a joy to go against him because you know he's bringing it every night. If you talk to the kid at all, he could have jumped ship last year. A lot of people would have tried to pick him up, and he didn't. It was good for Chris and it was good for the Northwestern program. It was good for the Big Ten to have him back, and it kind of shows you what a quality kid he is.

"I don't know how a guy could be that good of a kid when his dad is an official. I don't know how that's possible, but he is [laughter]."

- Olah: "Our legs were real tired, but we tried to give it all on the floor and tried to leave the floor -- whatever the result was -- with our head up."

- Collins, when asked what he learned this year: [smiles] "Big Ten is a good league"

- Collins: "I'm sad that the season is over. I wanted to keep playing. Our guys wanted to keep playing. It just wasn't in it for us tonight. Michigan State is really good, and our gas tank was on E, and we tried to do what we could, it just wasn't there."