FINAL: No. 4 Spartans fall to Northwestern 79-65 for first loss of season


Rocket Watts dribbles against Detroit Mercy/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Brendan Schabath, Men's Basketball Beat Reporter

EVANSTON, Ill. — Michigan State opened Big Ten conference play Sunday on a road trip to take on the Northwestern Wildcats. The No. 4 Spartans had one of their worst showings of the past two seasons in a 79-65 loss to Northwestern. 

“That was disgusting,” said MSU coach Tom Izzo in regards to MSU’s effort and performance.

The Spartans started the game abysmally in pretty much all facets. The Spartans, who entered the game shooting 36.4% from 3-point range, started the game 0-for-6 and finished the first half at just 4-for-15 from behind the arc. 

On the defensive end, things only got worse for MSU. Northwestern’s offense was smart, fluid and quick, which led to an 11-0 run to start and 52% shooting from the floor and 50% from deep in the first half. The Spartans had no answer for Boo Buie, who finished the first half with 14 points, and Pete Nance tacked on 11 points to be the second Wildcat in double digits at the break. 

MSU’s leaders were lost in the shuffle to open the game. Rocket Watts and Joey Hauser (who left the floor with two minutes left in the first half with a knee injury) started a combined 0-for-9 from the floor. Aaron Henry also appeared out of sorts to start the game as he shot 3-for-6 from the field (including two missed layups), had a turnover and some bad lapses on defense in the first half. 

Malik Hall was a bright spot in the loss for MSU. Hall started the game 4-for-6 from the floor and was the first Spartan to reach double digits. His defense and hard work on the offensive boards served as spark plugs for MSU’s attempt at a second-half comeback. 

The Spartans cut a 15-point deficit to 10 early in the second half and were gaining momentum, but then proceeded to give up an 11-0 run to the Wildcats and with 11 minutes left in the game found themselves down by 21 points. By the nine-minute mark, the Spartans had manufactured a 9-0 run of their own and were down by just 12. 

Desperately trying to find a way back to contending in this game, MSU was down by 13 with 7 minutes left. However, Josh Langford’s disqualifying fifth foul deflated the Spartan offense. Langford fouled out with 6:52 left in the game. He was one of the only consistent scorers in this game for MSU, as he finished with nine points on 4-for-9 shooting with two assists and two rebounds. After Langford’s departure, MSU was not the same and couldn’t muster a comeback against the Wildcats. 

“There are punches in the gut,” said Izzo “This was one that’s going to last because it was something I’m not used to seeing.”

To give credit where credit is due, Northwestern played a tremendous game. Buie finished with 30 points and the Wildcats’ three scorers in double digits totaled 57 points in comparison to MSU’s 31 points from three double-digit scorers. The Wildcats were lights out from the floor too, shooting 53% from the field and 47% from behind the arc.

“You want somebody to take the bull by the horns,” Izzo said in regards to defending Buie, “but nobody wanted to rise up.” 

Despite giving up a whopping 11 offensive rebounds to the Spartans, the Wildcats held MSU to an astounding zero second-chance points. 

It was a culmination of issues that led to arguably MSU’s worst performance in two seasons, but after the game, Izzo restated over and over again, it was the lack of effort that ultimately led to the Spartans’ demise. 

“If you want to miss a couple of shots, that’s bad but I can live with it,” Izzo said. “If you want to have a couple of turnovers, that’s bad but I can live with it. But if you don’t want to go out there and give the effort that’s required to play at this level, that I can’t live with.”

The Spartans shot a dismal 39% from the floor and 26% from deep. Henry was lifeless on defense and sputtered to a team-high 11 points. Watts finished with just five points after going 0-for-9 to start the game. 

“Rocket has been improving so much and that was kind of a setback for everybody,” Izzo said.

This wasn’t the way the Spartans wanted to start Big Ten play, and they’ll have to be much better if they want to beat a good Wisconsin team that travels into East Lansing for a Christmas Day tip-off at 12:30 p.m. Follow @WDBMSports on Twitter for all game coverage.

Brendan Schabath is a men’s basketball beat reporter for WDBM Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Bschabath3.