EAST LANSING, Mich. — For the second time this season, Northwestern held a halftime lead over No. 10 Michigan State. But unlike the first go-around, the Wildcats finally emerged victorious.
With Pete Nance (ankle) and Elyjah Williams sidelined, the ailing Wildcats (9-6, 2-4 B1G) battled all game and finally exorcised their late-game demons, upsetting the Spartans (14-3, 5-1) and ending MSU’s nine-game win streak.
Chris Collins turned to big man Ryan Young from the opening tip, who made his first start of the season; Young powered the Wildcats with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Chase Audige poured in 14 alongside seven rebounds.
From the get-go, both teams were sloppy. No points were scored until nearly two minutes in, when the Spartans’ Gabe Brown converted on a turnaround jumper.
Despite an early Michigan State lead, however, Collins’ ragtag group was unfazed. Boo Buie hit a layup, then stole a pass to give the ‘Cats a 4-2 advantage. From there, Chase Audige and Robbie Beran cashed in on three pointers, and Matthew Nicholson poured in a layup off the bench as NU went on an 8-0 run.
Not long after, the Spartans came roaring back. A 7-0 run by Tom Izzo’s team was momentarily halted by a Ryan Young layup, but Brown then heaved a miraculous, sprawling three that fell to knot the score at 14.
As the game continued on, MSU jumped out to a five-point lead, but the ‘Cats soon became red-hot from downtown. Beran, Audige and Boo Buie were all successful from beyond the arc as NU went up 24-21.
In the final five minutes of the first half, both squads traded buckets, but Northwestern closed the period up 38-33 courtesy of a Buie triple, a Casey Simmons pull-up jumper and a Nicholson put-back layup. Simply put, the Spartans could not evade their turnover woes, losing the ball 12 times in the opening 20 minutes; moreover, Max Christie, Jr. struggled mightily in the first period, as he was shooting just 1-for-5 with two points.
To begin the second half, Michigan State drew within one in a hurry thanks to a Brown layup jumpers from Julius Marble and Tyson Walker. Yet the ‘Cats stayed on top 44-39 through the 16-minute mark, as Buie made a circus, falling layup and Berry hit a backdoor shot of his own for his first points of the game.
As time went on, NU went cold from three. Buie missed three straight three-pointers, but the ‘Cats dominated the glass, accruing two offensive rebounds to extend the possession and take more time off the clock. Once the Spartans finally got it back, an MSU turnover on the other end yielded a Chase Audige eurostep and layup in stride.
Despite Audige’s nifty shot, the Spartans gained momentum and the Breslin Center was amped. Joey Hauser swished a three and an A.J. Hoggard layup just one possession later got MSU within two.
NU missed its first seven threes of the second half after having a smooth stroke from deep in the first period, enabling Michigan State to ultimately tie things up at 46 with just over 12 minutes left. The Wildcats missed all 11 of their triples in the second frame, with Buie hoisting four and making none.
While the ‘Cats went scoreless for nearly five minutes, Izzo & Co. saw an 11-0 run of their own, giving MSU its first lead of the afternoon. Just inside of 10 minutes, a Young hook shot finally got NU some points. The redshirt junior forward then angled toward the hoop for an and-one that got Northwestern back in front 51-50.
After Young went 1-of-2 from the charity stripe, Walker threw a lob that Marcus Bingham, Jr. hammered home to even the game at 52. On the ensuing possession, the ‘Cats had to make something happen late in the shot clock, and they did just that with Nicholson finding a cutting Ryan Greer for a layup.
The ‘Cats’ three-point drought finally ended when Audige sunk one inside of five minutes to play. The Spartans went right down the court, though, and Malik Hall made a fadeaway trio while being bumped by Young. He sank the free throw, cutting NU’s lead to one.
Down three, MSU had ample opportunity to tie the game, but Christie missed two jumpers. As the Spartans’ energy was sapped, Young trotted back down the court and converted yet another and-one to put Northwestern up 62-56 inside of three minutes.
The clock kept ticking. Christie would get a second chance after a foul by Julian Roper, as he hit two free throws on a one-and-one. The ‘Cats didn’t score on the other end, opening the door for a Marble soft hook that reduced the NU lead to just two with over 90 seconds remaining.
Marble eventually made two free throws to make it 64-62 inside of one minute. When the ‘Cats got the ball back, Young backed down Marble but couldn’t get the shot to fall.
In need of a score, MSU’s offense was stifled as Young forced a held ball. With another opportunity, Hall missed a three from the top of the key, and the Wildcats corralled the ball — but both Beran and Buie held the rock, causing a travel.
With one second remaining, Hauser lobbed the ball inside the paint to Bingham, who was fouled by Beran. Coming down to the wire, Bingham missed the first foul shot of a one-and-one, which was rebounded by Roper. Somehow, someway, the Wildcats had pulled off an emotional, stunning win — their first over a Top 10 opponent on the road since upending No. 7 Wisconsin in February 2017.
Speaking of the Badgers, Northwestern — with its faint heartbeat growing louder — will host Johnny Davis and UW-Madison for its next game on Tuesday, January 18.