Spartans drop first Big Ten matchup on the road at Northwestern

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EVANSTON, Ill.— No. 15-ranked MSU walked into Evanston on Thursday evening with a chip on their shoulder following a big win over a ranked Iowa team, and walked out without it, falling to the Wildcats 70-62 in a game where neither team led by more than seven points at one time.

“I thought we did some things that were uncharacteristic of what we have been doing all year. One of them was that we didn’t share the ball like we have been,” MSU head coach Suzy Merchant said. “I think we lead the league in assists and may be top five in the country. Tonight that wasn’t there.”

The Spartans had been missing the play of junior Shay Colley at the guard spot after she missed several weeks due to a lower leg injury, coming back into the lineup versus Iowa, scoring 3 points on 1-of-8 shooting.

She overcame a lackluster performance against Iowa and helped establish the Spartans in the first half as she rattled off 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting through two quarters. This gave MSU a 38-34 advantage heading into the break following a buzzer-beating three by Sidney Cooks.

Colley and Northwestern sophomore Lindsey Pulliam, who leads her team in scoring, went back and forth in the first half. Both players missed a combined eight shots on 21 attempts, with both scoring in double figures to lead their teams.

Pulliam is averaging 16 points per game, she scored 18 points in a huge upset victory that may have saved her team’s season.

“It’s really important, I think it helps our confidence going into our next games in the Big Ten and for us to just keep getting better each day.” Pulliam said after the win.

The Spartans dropped their third straight in Evanston, also falling in 2015 and 2017 before tonight’s game. And after MSU has averaged over 85 points per game this year, they were held to a season-low 62 points.

MSU was held to 53 points through three quarters as Colley nailed the biggest shot of the game from three that seemingly bounced on the rim forever, giving MSU a 53-52 lead heading into the final frame and setting up the two titans for a big finish.

The 3-pointer by Colley added to her season-high 28 points.

“She needed to get some confidence from an offensive standpoint,” Merchant said. “But to me it’s more about consistency, I mean we can’t have her taking 23 shots in a game. That’s just not who we are. We have been very consistent with everybody getting 10-15 [points].”

Northwestern refused to shy away from the moment as they outscored the Spartans 36-24 in the second half to complete the upset bid. The Spartans also shot 3-of-16 in the fourth quarter.

“We just couldn’t make shots. That’s where it started,” Merchant said. “If you’re on the road and you have opportunities, those are the ones that have got to go down.”

The Spartans are now 11-2 this year and 1-1 in conference play following the road game, Northwestern is now 9-5 and 2-1 in B1G play.

MSU plays next at Indiana on Jan. 6, the game can be found on BTN+.

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