EAST LANSING, Mich.–Michigan State went into its game against Northwestern coming off of a big win at Minnesota. Similarly, the Wildcats were also coming off of a Big Ten conference win over Penn State. This would be a big win for either team, as both would be 2-0 in conference play and given a confidence boost headed into the new year. For Michigan State, it would mean a third straight win with a record that can’t afford many more losses, and for Northwestern, a win on the road in East Lansing would be a resume builder come tournament time in March.
Michigan State was able to come out on top 61-52, due to a quick start in the first half and tough defense towards the end of the game.
The Breslin was missing the Izzone, Michigan State’s famed student section, but in its place was an alumni section, who were just as excited for this game.
“Best of all, was our crowd,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Our community rallied around these guys here, with no students. That was impressive. That place was live, and I always say, we’re not that good of a team to win without a crowd.”
MSU came out at full force feeding off the energy provided by the alumni student section, shooting 4-for-4 from the field. Freshman Nick Ward stole a Northwestern pass and finished on the other end with a massive dunk, putting the arena in a frenzy and giving the Spartans an early 9-2 lead.
The lead lingered around the five-to-eight point range until the 13:21 mark, when the Wildcats began a five-minute scoring drought. During this time, MSU was able to capitalize by going on a 17-6 run to extend the lead to 19 at 7:02. However, Northwestern was able to slowly chip away at Michigan State’s lead, and at halftime the score was 36-29.
Northwestern was able to keep it close during the second half despite another scoring drought lasting over five minutes. Unlike in the first half, MSU wasn’t able to take advantage as they were on a drought of their own, not scoring any points for more than four minutes of play.
As the Wildcats did in the first half, they slowly chipped away at the Michigan State lead. Northwestern was able to come as close as four points with 11:29 left in the game, but the Wildcats ran out of energy. They only made two more field goals for the remainder of the game out of their 13 final attempts. Northwestern resorted to sending the Spartans to the line, where MSU was able to extend their lead back up to nine, concluding with the final score of 61-52.
“That’s a very good team we beat,” Izzo said. “They have been playing good, and were very confident.”
Fast break points and bench points both were large factors in the Spartan win. Michigan State had 18 fast break points compared to two for Northwestern. As usual, the Spartan bench came to play and outscored their opponent once again. Senior Alvin Ellis III led the charge as the Spartans’ leading scorer with 16 points. With an additional eight rebounds, two steals and a block, he was able to help propel Michigan State to victory on both sides of the court.
“We ended up getting stops on the defensive end and transitioned those into buckets on the other end,” Ellis said.
When Ellis was asked if this was the Spartans best defensive performance, the senior responded, “I think it was. Rallying together. When things are getting bad, we try and move away from things that [weren’t] working before. I think we did a great job just focusing in on things.”
As for Miles Bridges, there still is no clear answer. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder has missed seven games now with a sprained ankle injury. The freshman averaged 16.6 points per game in the eight games he played in, and was a first team preseason All-American.
“He is working out. We did let him go through warm-ups.” Izzo said. “I am never going to put him in any position of taking a chance, but we do have to get him back. A lot of this is up to Miles, and I’m going to trust him.”
With the Spartan victory, MSU improved to 10-5, 2-0 in conference play while Northwestern dropped to 12-3, 1-1 in conference play.
Michigan State will attempt to stay perfect in Big Ten play as they take on Rutgers in another home game, Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. EST.