EVANSTON -- The No. 12 Michigan State Spartans annihilated Northwestern on its home-court, 76-45, behind excellent three-point shooting and helped on by a dismal offensive performance from the Wildcats.
Michigan State rode tremendous shooting to jump out in front and largely neutralized a great crowd from the tip. Northwestern struggled to get good looks early and got again found itself in a hole in a conference game on its home court. The biggest disparity between the first two teams was in three point shooting—Michigan State made 7 of their first 8 while Northwestern missed their first 7 before Bryant McIntosh finally connected with 8:29 remaining.
The sophomore carried Northwestern's offense, posting 10 points in the opening period. His rejection of Bryn Forbes at the rim brought out the loudest cheer from the student section, which was filled to capacity.
By halftime, Michigan State shot 72.7 percent from behind the arc while Northwestern shot only 22.6 percent from the field, so the 36-24 deficit could have been much steeper. Ten Michigan State turnovers kept Northwestern in the game, but the Wildcats only managed 7 points off the turnovers.
And it's not as if Northwestern didn't get any good looks, either. Michigan State's defense largely kept Northwestern out of the lane, but the Wildcats had plenty of opportunities to make a couple threes and reignite the crowd. On one particular possession, Nathan Taphorn missed two consecutive wide-open threes. The junior, who is on the floor for his shooting and not much else, missed all four of his attempts. His play was a microcosm of the shooting woes that have repeatedly manifested at Welsh-Ryan.
Denzel Valentine, who played mostly point guard, was electric despite 6 turnovers. His three point-shooting was tremendous—he made all four of his attempts in the first half and finished with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists overall—but it was his total command of the floor that was perhaps most impressive. Valentine was calling out sets and orchestrating his teammates' movements. It's easy to see why he's a frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year and a projected first-round NBA draft pick.
The second half spelled more of the same. Northwestern struggled to get anything going, forcing McIntosh to force up contested, acrobatic shots far too often. At times, Northwestern seemed a few buckets away from getting back into the game but simply could not convert. Back to back threes from Michigan State's Matt McQuaid—who made five triples and finished with 17 points— put the Spartans up 49-29 with 12:39 remaining. It was at that point that the student section started emptying.
Michigan State kept their foot on the gas and dolled out an absolute beating. By the time the final buzzer mercifully ended proceedings, Michigan State had won 76-45.
--That was a disheartening performance. Welsh-Ryan was packed, Northwestern knew it needed a win, and proceeded to get blown out of the water. Collins will have to find a way to keep spirits high with a trip to Iowa looming on Sunday.
--They say basketball is a make or miss game. Yeah, seems about right. Consider these stats: Michigan State shot 51percent from the field and 61 percent from three. Northwestern, on the other hand, shot 21 percent from the field and 17% from behind the arc. Shocking stuff. And so many of Michigan State's threes were wide-open looks.
--The seniors continue to struggle, big time. Demps had another putrid shooting game, going 2 of 14 for 4 points, while Alex Olah was a complete non-factor. The big Romanian managed only 4 points in 17 minutes, all of which came from the free throw line. These guys are supposed to be two of Northwestern's three best players and they're simply not contributing.
--I don't want to point fingers, but it seemed as if Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had this game won even before the tip. Izzo had clearly picked apart Northwestern's matchup zone and consistently had shooter on the floor. Four Michigan State Spartans made at least two three pointers. Additionally, Collins didn't give Scottie Lindsey any playing time, and while Lindsey has struggled this year, this was a game where his scoring potential could have been useful.
--Yes, the offense was miserable, but the defense wasn't much better. It seems as if teams that can shoot the three are going to give Northwestern's matchup zone big problems. Without rewatching the game yet, I'd guess that roughly 60 percent of Michigan State's made threes were shot without a defender within 2 feet of the shooter.
--Denzel Valentine is for real. He knows how to use his body and has tremendous touch on his jump shot. He's a true floor general, and watching him in person validates the hype surrounding him. Michigan State is always at their best come March, and this team seems to have what it takes to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.