EAST LANSING, Mich. With about six minutes left in the first half, No. 3 Michigan State made it perfectly clear how far Northwestern men’s basketball has to go before becoming competitive.
The Spartans put on a one-possession clinic on offensive rebounding and power basketball when Zach Randolph hit a layup and drew a foul. Randolph missed the free throw, but managed to collect the rebound, go back up to nail another layup and draw another foul.
Randolph then hit the free throw to complete the five-point play, put the Spartans up 11 and bury the Wildcats (7-8, 0-3 Big Ten) for good.
The sequence said it all. Michigan State (13-1, 2-1) outrebounded NU 46-17, collecting 17 offensive boards in the 84-53 victory Wednesday in front of 14,759 fans at the Breslin Center.
Say one thing about the Cats: They stayed with the Spartans longer than many expected.
NU held one lead, a 3-0 advantage after Winston Blake hit a three-pointer from the top of the key 31 seconds into the game. But following that, Michigan State took advantage of Wednesday night’s home-court advantage to dominate NU in most facets of the game.
“I thought it was just enormous pressure on the backboards,” NU coach Bill Carmody said. “You look at the stats it seemed like it was more than 30 rebounds they outrebounded us by. I don’t know if we can do anything to remedy that.”
More than just rebounding killed the Cats. The Spartans were quicker up and down the floor, and NU had no answer for the superior athletes in Michigan State’s lineup.
In their first three possessions, the Spartans who were coming off an upset loss at Indiana converted on three transition baskets. And one more Marcus Taylor jumper put Michigan State ahead 8-3.
The Cats stayed tough even after giving up the 8-0 run, tying the score at 10 with 15:15 left in the first half. With 7:02 left in the first half, NU trailed by just four points, but Michigan State’s rebounding was too much for the overwhelmed Cats.
“We gave up I don’t know how many offensive rebounds in a row,” NU center Tavaras Hardy said. “They were getting fouls and three-point plays and it was turning into a joke. We just need to somehow bounce back from that, and we didn’t.
“We might be a small team, but rebounds are all about desire, and we have to have the desire to go get them.”
Michigan State’s late run in the first half ended any upset hopes. Down 25-21, the Cats allowed a 9-0 run and never got closer than 10 the rest of the game. Still, the Spartans seemed a bit surprised the Cats battled so well in the early minutes.
“It looked a little sluggish early,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I thought Northwestern did a pretty good job in the first 10 minutes. They hit some shots. I was very impressed with their three-point shooting all night.”
Indeed, the Cats shot 10-for-23 from three-point range. Even Jennings got in on the act, draining two of three attempts from behind the arc.
NU also took care of the ball. The Cats committed only 10 turnovers, one of their lowest totals of the year.
And NU consistently worked the shot clock down to single digits, slowing the game’s pace and finding open shots.
However, the Spartans physical size and quickness left the Cats with no answers and by the second half, no chance.
Even tight officiating in the second half helped NU slow the tempo of the game. Still the Cats couldn’t capitalize, as the Spartans drained shot after shot.
Michigan State shot a whopping 54 percent from the field, as the undersized Cats couldn’t contest most of its shots.
“That’s a heck of a good team,” Carmody said. “I wasn’t that unhappy, even though we lost by 30, because we’re trying to take small steps right now. We’re just trying to get our guys to run our stuff and hang in there.
“We were getting it from all sides tonight.”