EAST LANSING – No. 14 Michigan State defeated Northwestern for the second time this season, 79-50. Unlike previous games, the Spartans got off to a quick start. MSU is now 16-5 overall and 8-2 in the Big Ten.
“We’re shaky at times,” Xavier Tillman said. “Sometimes well come hot, everybody’s playing, everybody’s ballin’. Then we’ll beat a team by 40. But other games, not even me or [Cassius Winston] show up.”
Although Northwestern is no Virginia Tech or Kentucky, the Wildcats challenged the Spartans throughout the evening. A win like this can only help a team carry positive energy back out on the road.
Here are my quick takes from the win against Northwestern.
In most of the Spartans’ tight games, and especially in their losses against Purdue and Indiana, they started too slow. MSU fell 19-4 eight minutes into the game at Purdue, and 18-4 at 12:35 into the game at Indiana. Against the Wildcats, the Spartans escaped with the lead eight minutes into the game at 16-2.
Maybe it was the home crowd, or Malik Hall’s second career start followed by a dunk. Either way, they will need to carry that same intensity on the road to be able to compete in this conference.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Hall said. “Honestly, the first time starting here at home was actually pretty awesome. Just because everybody was really hyped up…away games, it’s just being able to throw the first punch really.”
A key point in coach Tom Izzo’s postgame press conference was consistency. The Spartans have obviously had their ups and downs this season, but so has any other team in the Big Ten. The Big Ten could very well be the toughest conference in the nation.
“Everybody’s inconsistent, or everybody’s playing really well,” Izzo said.
Though the conference could be inconsistent, the Spartans have shown inconsistency individually that will come back to hurt them playing tougher teams like Wisconsin and Maryland.
There have been games where Cassius Winston doesn’t show up, games where Xavier Tillman’s outside shot is off and games when Aaron Henry gives up points on defense.
When inconsistency strikes in players like those guys, the Spartans won’t be able to succeed.
Outside shot, game changer
The Spartans had six players making 3-pointers against Northwestern, including Foster Loyer and Cassius Winston with four each. The Wildcats shot 15.8% from behind the arc, while MSU shot 40%. Being able to knock down explosive shots like Loyer and Tillman is something the Spartans will need to rely on in bigger games at the season continues.
Something that will set them apart come tournament time is big guys like Tillman, Ahrens and Marcus Bingham Jr. posing a threat outside of the paint.
“Keep working,” Bingham Jr. said. “We’re trying to stay consistent and get better every game.”
After a quick stop at home, the Spartans are back on the road to play Wisconsin on Saturday at 1 p.m.