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Northwestern @ Michigan State final score: Wildcats go cold offensively, fall to Spartans

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Michigan State led wire to wire and prevailed at home

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Izzo strikes again.

Northwestern (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten) showed grit and toughness in a hostile atmosphere, but ultimately fell to Michigan State (10-5, 2-0) in East Lansing 61-52.

Two ice cold periods offensively—one at the beginning of the first half and the other in the middle of the second half—doomed the Wildcats, as they fell to 1-1 early in conference play.

Vic Law scored a game-high 16 points and also pulled in 9 rebounds in a fantastic overall effort, but Northwestern’s backcourt of Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey struggled to provide him with help offensively, shooting just 6-25 from the field combined.

Foul trouble was also a huge issue for Northwestern, as they were forced to play large portions of the game with no true center on the floor due to Barret Benson and Gavin Skelly’s struggles in that area.

Alvin Ellis paced the Spartans with 16 points of his own, and Freshmen Cassius Winston (15 points, 6 assists) and Nick Ward (11 points, 9 rebounds) were also immense in their team’s victory.

Early on, the Spartans came out fired up in front of a raucous Alumni Night crowd at the Breslin Center. They hounded McIntosh and Lindsey defensively, forcing tough shots and a couple of turnovers as they jumped out to a 9-2 advantage after just three minutes of action.

The Wildcats attempted to get a foothold in the contest by buckling down on the defensive end of the floor. They forced Michigan State to use all 30 seconds of the shot clock on three consecutive possessions, and managed to end three more possessions with turnovers. However, Northwestern’s offense was still unable to get going, with Lindsey missing a series of contested threes and the Wildcats twice hurting themselves with offensive fouls.

Nearing the 13-minute mark with the score at 11-3 and the Wildcats shooting just 1-8 from the field, it was Nathan Taphorn off the bench who hit a wing three-pointer to break the drought. However, Ellis answered quickly with a three of his own.

This sparked a Michigan State run as Northwestern continued to flounder offensively. The impressive Ward dropped in his third bucket of the game down low to extend the lead to 10, and another jumper from Ellis made the score 18-6 at the midway point of the half. Then the Spartan guards all seemed to catch fire at once. Starting guards Winston and Joshua Langford each hit jumpers, before sparkplug Lourawls Nairn hit a transition three which set the sea of green and white in the stands into raptures. A Winston layup in transition with seven minutes to play gave the Spartans a commanding 28-9 advantage.

Despite the emphatic run by the Spartans, the Wildcats responded well as their offense started to click for the first time all night. Lindsey and Law both found their stroke from deep, pouring in 9 points from behind the line as part of an 11-5 Northwestern run that narrowed the gap to 11 with 5:23 to play.

Although the Northwestern defense remained strong throughout the half, forcing Michigan State into many long possessions and tough shots, foul trouble proved to be a problem for centers Skelly and Benson. Ward was a handful both in the post and on the glass, and it was in large part his presence and activity that caused both big men to be saddled with three fouls with as many as 5 minutes to play in the half.

With the Wildcats defensive vulnerability in the middle, the Spartans may have thought it would be easy to build on their double-digit lead before the end of the half. However, the wing scoring of Law, Lindsey and Taphorn and dogged perimeter defense ignited a gutsy resurgence from Chris Collins’ team.

After leading by 15 with four minutes to play, the Spartans went without a field goal for the remainder of the half. On the other end, two tough finishes from Law inside and threes from Taphorn and Lindsey brought the Wildcats back within single digits, and a struggling McIntosh’s first field goal of the game on a jumper to close out the half meant Northwestern went into the locker room down 36-29 and within striking distance.

The first 20 minutes was quite ugly as a whole, especially for the Wildcats who turned the ball over eight times and had as many fouls as they did field goals (11). The shooting of Law, Lindsey and Taphorn kept Northwestern in the game, with the trio accounting for every single one of their team’s first half points before McIntosh’s late jumper. Ellis, who hit a series of free throws during his team’s field goal drought, was the high-scorer at the half with 11.

The opening exchanges of the second half were nothing short of a heavyweight prize fight. Five quick points from Sanjay Lumpkin and tough finishes inside from Law and McIntosh were answered by 10 points from Michigan State’s guards, including two old-fashioned three point plays from Winston.

Despite settling in well on the offensive end, the result of these early exchanges spelled big trouble for Northwestern. Both Skelly and Benson picked up their fourth fouls of the game within the first two minutes of the half, meaning Chris Collins would be forced to turn to a lineup without a true big man for the majority of the second half against a Michigan State team with a formidable paint presence.

However, the makeshift big man tandem of Taphorn and Lumpkin was able to hold its own against the Spartan offense. Lumpkin drew the job main job of keeping Ward in check down low, and was remarkably able to do so despite his severe disadvantage in size.

Law also played a key role in making up for the lack of a center on the glass, hauling in 5 of his 9 defensive rebounds in the first 10 minutes of the half. He also continued to do work offensively, and it was his layup that brought Northwestern to within four at 48-44 with 10:48 to play.

Neither team scored for the next 4:09 in a period of hectic and physical play, in which the Wildcats caught a break in the form of a missed defensive goaltending call against the indefatigable Law.

Ellis broke the duct for the Spartans by banking in a wild runner in the lane over the contesting Lumpkin, before Ward emphatically put his stamp on the game.

With Michigan State’s lead at 50-44 with 6:41 to play, the Freshman hit 1-2 at the free throw line, before forcing Skelly into his disqualifying fifth foul while trying to battle with him in the post. After making both the resulting shots from the stripe, he emphatically blocked a driving Lindsey to send the crowd into a frenzy and stake his team to a commanding 53-44 lead.

After Ward’s energy gave them separation, the Spartans made sure there would be no Norhtwestern comeback by stifling the Wildcats defensively. The visiting team went an astonishing 9:59 second-half stretch without a field goal, as Lindsey went cold and they entirely lost the ability to find open looks against Michigan State’s length, quickness and flawless rotations.

A McIntosh layup with 1:30 to play and a subsequent turnover in the backcourt from the Spartans gave Northwestern a semblance of hope, but the wildcats’ point guard missed a second driving attempt. Michigan State was able to take care of the ball and cruise to the finish line in the final minute.