A career high 31 points from John Shurna wasn't enough for Northwestern, as Michigan State broke the game open in the 2nd half and held on to sweep the season series.
In the first half, Northwestern controlled the pace, and thanks to the hot shooting of Shurna and an unexpected 4 points of the bench from little-used Mike Capocci, the 'Cats were within two at the half despite getting killed on the offensive glass by Michigan State. But in the second half, the Spartans opened on an 18-4 run, highlighted by an incredible dunk from Chris Allen, and NU never got within 7 the rest of the way. Northwestern's defense was non-existent after halftime, allowing Michigan State to shoot 75% from the field after the Spartans shot just 35% in the first half. Bill Carmody rotated between 1-3-1 and matchup zone, but neither was successful. Durrell Summers had 24 to lead Michigan State and Kalin Lucas added 23.
The game was very tightly officiated, as both teams found themselves in foul trouble, most notably in the post, with Luka Mirkovic and Raymar Morgan both fouling out in limited minutes. That favored Michigan State, as Draymond Green stepped in and filled up the box score as usual, with 9 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Meanwhile, Northwestern got very little production from Davide Curletti and Kyle Rowley. Curletti played 18 minutes and was held scoreless, and Rowley did nothing in his 2 minutes.
Shurna had a huge game for the 'Cats, but didn't get much help. Jeremy Nash and Drew Crawford each had 12 points, and Michael Thompson struggled on his way to just 7 points and 2 assists. He had a couple of bad turnovers and forced shots, and looked how you'd expect a guy who's played 40 minutes a night to look: tired. Hopefully that doesn't continue as Northwestern needs Thompson playing well to have a chance.
It's hard to be too disappointed with tonight, as there's no shame in losing to a top 5 team on the road, but it's frustrating nonetheless. Northwestern did a pretty good job of controlling the tempo, and shot well from 3-point range at 11 for 27, but they lost the turnover battle 11 to 10, and if you're not forcing turnovers against Michigan State it's very tough to beat them. Credit has to go to Michigan State for picking apart the zone, in particular to Lucas who ran the point flawlessly (0 turnovers) and to Green who did an excellent job passing out of the middle of the zone.
The brutal opening half of the Big Ten schedule is finally over for Northwestern, and they finished at a disappointing but not really unexpected 3-6 (after all, they were underdogs in 8 of the 9 games and only a 1 point favorite in the ninth). Their NCAA chances are now looking pretty slim, as the margin of error from here on out is almost zero. The good news is that the schedule gets easier, and I'd expect them to be favored in at least 7 of their remaining 9 conference game. So there is plenty of time to salvage the season, starting Tuesday at home against Michigan. See you then.