EAST LANSING, Mich.–Northeastern defeated Michigan State 81-73 Sunday in a shocking home loss for a depleted Spartans squad desperately missing its star player, Miles Bridges. The Spartans could never build a lead beyond six points against the Huskies, eventually doing the home team in late in the game.
In what is becoming a theme this nonconference season for Michigan State basketball, a mid-major gave the Spartans fits at the Breslin Center. The Spartans (7-5) have struggled at home with Oral Roberts and Tennessee Tech in December. This time, that mid-major toppled Michigan State in its first nonconference home loss since a 2014 loss to Texas Southern.
Northeastern, with no starters under 6-foot-3, sized up well with the Spartans–missing three players taller than 6-foot-7–on paper. But the Huskies’ outside shooting was the difference-maker, as they shot 11-for-23 from three-point range over both bad defense and great defense.
The Huskies (6-5) were in control for most of the first half, leading for 16:40 of the stanza. The Spartans’ only lead before the break was a 1-0 score early. The two teams were tied five times in the first half, but each time the Spartans fought to a deadlock, the Huskies pulled back away and regained the lead. The Huskies’ halftime lead was 38-34.
“They hit some shots, the three before halftime,” Izzo said. “A couple of those threes, give them credit, they made them.”
The Huskies focused early and often on taking away the Spartans’ transition game, a staple of the Tom Izzo era. Michigan State scored four fast break points in the first half and 12 on the day, struggling create mismatches on the break.
“We wanted to make sure we got back,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “I think Michigan State, year in and year out, especially with Tum Tum (Nairn), they do a really good job of pushing the ball and making easy baskets in transition, so that was our big focus.”
The Spartans’ point guards struggled to find easy buckets in transition due to Northeastern’s heavy focus on that part of the game.
“They kind of jammed us to one side of the court,” MSU point guard Cassius Winston said. “You could tell that they were focusing on our transition and trying to slow us down.”
The second half saw Michigan State fight back from an early seven-point deficit. Winston (21 points, 10 assists) led the comeback charge, capped off with a crazy acrobatic layup to give the Spartans a 51-45 lead with 11:45 left.
“Cassius Winston played the best offense-defense on our team today,” Izzo said. “His defense has improved enormously. That’s why I started him the second half.”
But Northeastern fought right back and scored five straight points on a T.J. Williams three late in the shot clock and an Alex Murphy layup, cutting the Spartans’ lead to one.
“We had a six point lead, we had everything going our way, they hit a big shot,” Izzo said. “If you look at the next three minutes, everything went wrong… We missed some free throws. We missed a dunk.”
The two teams traded buckets to a 59-59 tie with 7:48 to go. Williams (17 points, nine rebounds, played all 40 minutes) hit a go-ahead layup with 6:53 left, and the Huskies never trailed after that. Their lead ballooned to 12 with under one minute left, and the Spartans could never claw back closer than nine.
“We’ve just got to step up to the plate,” said Winston, who notched his first career double-double. “We’ve got to dig deep in ourselves, each and every one of us. Once that happens, we bring it together.”
Yet again, free throw shooting was not kind to Izzo’s team. The Spartans shot 16-of-26 (61.5 percent) from the charity stripe, while the Huskies built their lead thanks to an 83.3 percent clip on free throws.
“I’m just amazed at some of the guys that missed free throws,” Izzo said. “When I think of Eron Harris, Cassius Winston and Matt McQuaid, those are, in my mind, 85 or 90 percent shooters, and we missed three front ends of a one-and-one.”
Harris, the only senior starter on the team, played a less-than-stellar game, scoring 11 points after going 4-of-11 from the field. The expected scoring leader found himself on the bench late in the contest as the game slipped away.
“He didn’t guard, he didn’t play very hard, he didn’t play very smart, he took a couple bad shots, and he wasn’t playing the way he has to play,” Izzo said. “If Harris doesn’t do that this week, he won’t be playing this week either. And if he does, he will. It’s not all on Eron Harris, but seniors gotta rise up.”
The Spartans look to bounce back from the upset loss on Wednesday against the Oakland Grizzlies. Tip-off at the Breslin Center is set for 7:00 PM.