Men’s Basketball: Northwestern can’t complete upset against Michigan State
January 15, 2014
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It was almost deja vu.
Two years ago at home, Northwestern knocked off then-No. 6/7 Michigan State in the biggest win of that season.
Wednesday night, the Wildcats (8-10, 1-4 Big Ten) hung around but failed to pull off an upset and fell to the No. 4 Spartans (16-1, 5-0), 54-40. NU could not build a conference winning streak after knocking off in-state rival Illinois on Sunday in Evanston.
“Tonight’s game was just a battle,” coach Chris Collins said. “I couldn’t be prouder of how our guys played tonight. You had two teams competing like crazy. The game was in the balance, but (Michigan State is) just better than us right now.”
NU’s defense was key to keeping the team in the game Wednesday. Despite the Spartans outrebounding the Cats 39-35, NU kept up its defensive intensity, even when having to defend multiple possessions.
“That was the best defense I’ve seen here in a while,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “They played so hard. They outrebounded us in the first. It’s a sign of a good young team that’s playing hard. It’s a sign of a good young coach.”
Redshirt freshman Sanjay Lumpkin especially impressed on the defensive end. The forward made a huge impact early in the second half with two athletic blocks.
On the first, Lumpkin was the lone defender near the basket on a fast break, blocking a layup that ignited a Kale Abrahamson 3 on the other end. Minutes later, Lumpkin ran the length of the floor before a thunderous chase-down block. Lumpkin took the energy back to the offensive end, where an offensive rebound led to a layup from redshirt sophomore guard Tre Demps.
“Sanjay’s a warrior. He’s only going to get better,” Collins said. “All these games are such great experience for him. He’s a big part of our future. He represents all of the qualities I want our program to be about.”
But the seams started to come apart soon after Lumpkin’s energy burst. The Spartans’ talent took over, and the Cats’ offense could not keep up. After Abrahamson’s 3 with 17:46 left in the game, Michigan State went on a 24-13 run the rest of the game to put NU away comfortably.
“We have to find a way to score more than 40 points,” Collins said. “We’re having a hard time getting any easy baskets. We have to be opportunistic. I’ve got to do a better job of getting shots for Drew and JerShon. … That’s not their fault.”
The Cats struggled to find scoring from anyone on the team. Their only player to score in double digits was Demps, who finished with 12 points.
Playing without junior guard Dave Sobolewski for the second straight game, junior JerShon Cobb started at point guard and could not get much going. Cobb shot 3-of-12 for 8 points.
Cobb’s 8 points still led the starting unit, which combined for only 25 points. Sophomore center Alex Olah again flashed some skill early, but he finished with only five shot attempts and 4 points as the offense seemed to phase him out.
Olah came up short on the boards as well, only picking up four rebounds, fewer than both Lumpkin and Cobb. The Spartans took advantage on the offensive glass, picking up 14 offensive rebounds.
As a team, NU’s shooting totals disappointed, as they have for much of the season. The Cats combined for 13-of-46 shooting from the field, good for only a 28.3 field goal percentage. From three, NU was even worse, shooting under 22 percent.
“We’re on the right track,” Collins said. “We’re a different team than we were 10 days ago. If we play like we played tonight, we’ll be in a position to win a lot of games.