Posting their best offensive output against teams not named Mississippi Valley State, the ‘Cats played admirably against a talented Spartan defensive front while surrounded by the hostile East Lansing “Izzone.” Northwestern’s moral victory dropped them to 10-6 (1-2 in B1G play) and sent Michigan State to 12-5 (3-1 in B1G play).
Despite the largely encouraging result, Coach Chris Collins was insisted “we’re not in this moral victories.” He said he believed his team deserved to win the game this afternoon. The scoreboard might have disagreed with him when the clock struck zero, but his team’s body of work today still made a strong case.
But this is still Northwestern we’re talking about – slow starts have been this team’s calling card this year all too often. The ‘Cats didn’t put anything on the board until a JerShon Cobb jumper at the 15:31 mark cut MSU’s lead to 9-2. The ‘Cats trailed by as many as 14 early, and it seemed like they were still mired in the first-half funk that had doomed them against Northern Iowa, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin.
But then the ‘Cats took a road trip to Splash City. They made 15 out of 18 field goal attempts starting with Cobb’s slump-busting jumper, and went on a 13-2 run to tie the game at 30 late in the first half. NU grabbed a 39-36 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the first period, but the Spartans knocked down some late free throws to send both teams to the break tied at 40.
This surprising outburst of first half offense was mostly attributed to the ‘Cats hot shooting from behind the arc, namely from Nathan Taphorn and Bryant McIntosh. NU shot 58.3 percent from three point land and 57.7% overall in the first half – well above average.
In the second half, NU regressed to the mean, and the Spartans capitalized. Michigan State grabbed a 11-point lead with seven minutes left in the second half after a 17-2 run, but the ‘Cats scratched back, cutting the lead to six, 68-62, with four minutes to go. A Vic Law triple in the corner cut that lead to 68-65 at the 3:40 mark, and then Tre Demps tied things at 68 with his own three pointer at the 3:03 mark.
With about a minute and a half left and the score tied at 70, Demps and McIntosh chucked up unsuccessful jumpers but were both bailed out by clutch offensive rebounds, eating clock and giving Demps a chance to drive in and take a foul with 28 seconds left. He sunk both free throws to give the ‘Cats a 72-70 lead. But following a questionable foul call on Law on the other end, MSU junior guard Denzel Valentine answered with two free throws of his own to tie the game at 72.
In the final seconds of regulation, McIntosh kicked it to Demps in the corner for a great look at a potentially game-winning three, but it hit the rim and bounced out to send the game to overtime.
In overtime, the Spartan defense was up to the task, forcing unproductive, ugly Wildcat possessions and opening up a comfortable cushion. Desperation forced the ‘Cats into uncomfortable shots, and crisp assists and buckets from senior guard Travis Trice put the final nail in Northwestern’s coffin. The Spartans outscored the ‘Cats 12-5 in the overtime period.
Northwestern will look to build off this solid performance against Illinois at home on Wednesday at 8 p.m.