Spartans ‘out-toughed’ by Northwestern at home in Big Ten opener


Tom Izzo assesses his team ahead of Michigan State’s contest against Kentucky in the 2022 Champion’s Classic. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Liam Jackson, Sports Editor

EAST LANSING – No. 20 Michigan State’s lackluster performance leads to a 70-63 loss in the Big Ten opener to Northwestern.

Northwestern senior guard Boo Buie continued to be a thorn in the side of MSU, as he has been his entire career. Bouie averages over 17 points a game against the Spartans and he scored 20 on Sunday, including big shots and free throws at the end to seal it.

“Maybe it’s something about the atmosphere,” Buie said. “Coming to play in that type of atmosphere just picks my game up.”

Sunday’s game marked the first time that MSU lost a conference play opener that was played in the Breslin Center since 2014. 

“I thought we got out-toughed,” said head coach Tom Izzo.

It is not every year that Michigan State can feel relieved to begin the conference season, but the non-conference schedule was brutal for the Spartans. According to, a website that tracks advanced stats in college basketball, MSU has played the seventh toughest schedule in the country and the toughest in terms of opponents’ offenses.

Michigan State looked well-rested and comfortable early on. Three-pointers were falling, bigs were getting open on rolls to the rim and the defense was stout. 

On paper, Northwestern did not provide much firepower offensively. The Wildcats ranked 178th in the nation in offensive rating. 

On the court, the Wildcats gave the Spartan defense trouble. The shooting percentage numbers won’t jump off the screen, but the Wildcats were able to maintain composure once they had the lead. Northwestern kept attacking the rim and was rewarded with 24 free throws.

“Our defense has been carrying the day and we have really been struggling offensively,” said Chris Collins, head coach of Northwestern. “We have been stagnant and not moving too well. Tonight, we got back to playing how we want to play.”

Northwestern did not waver even after MSU hit five of its first six threes, and the Wildcats hung around and took a 38-37 lead into halftime.

“I was concerned about the knockout punch early,” Collins said. “They hit us with five or seven quick ones early and then we settled down and hit a couple of shots to get ourselves in the game. To be able to get the lead at half I thought was important.”

Sophomore guard Jaden Akins returned to the lineup for the Spartans. Akins missed the entire Phil Knight Invitational and the game against Notre Dame. He not only returned, he took A.J. Hoggard’s spot in the starting lineup. 

“I changed the lineup for a reason,” Izzo said. “It was to light a fire under A.J. for not doing the things that I need done as a point guard. To his credit, he responded extremely well”

Akins is not all the way back in terms of his conditioning, Izzo said. He expects Akins to play 16 to 18 minutes a game for about the next two weeks.

Tyson Walker’s aggressive playstyle on both ends of the floor makes him the impact player he is. He will reach, he will contest players’ shots at the rim and he will look to create space for his own shots on offense. Most of the time, Walker is capable of getting blocks and steals without fouling. However, foul trouble kept Walker out of a lot of the second half on Sunday. He picked up his fourth foul with 16:36 left in the game.

“We are good enough to win these games,” Izzo said. “We are good enough to beat just about anyone we’ve played so far. The disappointment for me tonight is that we couldn’t take the banging they did.”

Michigan State drops to 5-4 on the year and 0-1 in the Big Ten. The Spartans travel to Penn State on Wednesday to face the Nittany Lions.