Plus Northwestern broke out black jerseys.
The Wildcats (12-5 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) controlled the pace all day, continued to beat MSU (15-3, 4-1) with backdoor cuts and getting to the free-throw line, ending MSU's 15-game winning streak with a 81-74 win Saturday in Evanston. It was Northwestern's most points against MSU since 1979.
|Northwestern stormed the court after the win. (Photo via @MattCharboneau)|
It was MSU's worst defensive performance since the second half against Duke. Perhaps worst defensive game since Iowa last season. In years past, MSU did a great job preventing the backdoor cuts that are the staple of Northwestern's offense. Not on Saturday. The only Spartans who could stop the backdoor cut were Keith Appling and Draymond Green. Northwestern shot 26-for-52 in the game.
Austin Thornton, Branden Dawson, Travis Trice and others were constantly beaten by the backdoor.
Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix were so bad matching up with Northwestern's smaller team that Tom Izzo went with four guards for most of the second half.
Northwestern's Davide Curletti averaged 3.7 points per game entering Saturday, but scored 17 points to go with six rebounds and four assists.
As the game began, MSU ripped through Northwestern's 1-3-1 zone, starting off shooting 11-for-14. But the Spartans couldn't defend without fouling, and a late three-pointer by Jon Shurna gave the Wildcats a 39-37 lead at the half. Northwestern went 8-for-9 from the free-throw line in the half and had six offensive rebounds.
Shurna finished with 22 points. He only shot 5-for-14, but he went 10-for-11 from the free-throw line
The second half started with Dawson getting beat by a backdoor, and MSU never made the defensive adjustments. Northwestern upped the lead to double-digits before a full-court press helped MSU cut the deficit to five, but Northwestern kept driving to the hoop, getting fouled and making the free throws.
Appling led MSU with 17 points, but he only shot 4-for-13 from the field. In the second half, he was the only Spartan who could make his own shot, as he continually drove to the hoops and got fouled. He was 9-for-13 from the free-throw line. The charity stripe was a problem for MSU, as everyone not named Appling went 8-for-14.
Green had 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting (4-for-5 from 3), but didn't attempt his first two-point shot until deep into the second half. He hung up high as MSU worked around the zone defense, finishing with three offensive rebounds in his total of 14 boards. MSU won the rebounding battle 39-27, but considering MSU's was the conference's top rebounding team and Northwestern was the worst, the margin should have been bigger.
There weren't many offensive rebound chances early on, as MSU kept making shots, but as they missed more and more shots, the rebound numbers climbed. Northwestern went 21-for-29 from the line.
MSU turned the ball over 14 times, compared to just seven for Northwestern.
I don't think this was a case of being "fat and sassy" as Izzo likes to say. It wasn't an intimidating environment either. It was Northwestern's style of play that is hard to duplicate in practice, and young players rarely have to play against in in high school. MSU is full of young players who couldn't figure out how to defend the Princeton-style offense.
This does take a bit of shine off of Tuesday's game in Ann Arbor. Both MSU and Michigan head into Tuesday coming off killer road losses. U-M was blown out by Iowa earlier in the day. Maybe both teams were caught looking ahead a little bit. It looked like it was going to be the biggest MSU/U-M game in a long time, but they both still will be ranked.
If I'm U-M, I saw a lot of ways to attack MSU's defense. The Wolverines don't use as many backdoor cuts as they used to, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do on Tuesday, as well as driving straight to the hoop. As for MSU, they'll need to work on the defense and free-throw shooting in practice.
With such a young team, the margin for error is so small. They will have to learn quickly with Tuesday's big game looming.