State sours senior send-off (Men’s Basketball)

Zach Silka

Northwestern’s road game against Indiana on Saturday just became a must-win.

The Wildcats could have claimed postseason eligibility in Wednesday’s home finale but instead came away with a 69-58 loss against No. 14 Michigan State.

“It’s definitely going to be a great game down there (at Indiana),” said NU forward Vedran Vukusic, who finished with a team-high 17 points and became the 26th NU player to reach 1,000 points. “That game definitely means a lot.”

The Cats (14-14, 6-9 Big Ten) now need a win in Bloomington, Ind., to keep their hopes alive for a berth to the National Invitation Tournament.

Senior night in front of 6,147 at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday appeared to be the perfect atmosphere for NU to lock up a postseason bid heading into the Big Ten tournament next week.

NU honored seniors Davor Duvancic and Michael Jenkins before the game and presented them with their framed jerseys.

The atmosphere seemed ripe for an upset.

But the Spartans (21-5, 12-3) jumped out to a 29-12 lead on the Cats and never trailed.

NU coach Bill Carmody was ejected with 35.2 seconds left in the first half. It marked his second ejection of the season.

But Carmody’s tossing awakened the Cats in the second half under the direction of assistant coach Paul Lee.

“We just started playing harder,” Vukusic said. “I know it sounds bad, but I wish (Carmody’s ejection) would have happened earlier in the first half.”

After calling a 30-second timeout, Carmody spent much of the break in official Zelton Steed’s ear.

By the time the horn sounded concluding the timeout, Carmody had been ejected.

“It was just normal stuff that coaches do with referees,” Carmody said. “I wasn’t happy with the way (the game) was going.”

Carmody received his first technical foul with 7:56 in the first half from official Ted Hillary.

Spartans’ guards Shannon Brown and Kelvin Torbert each converted one of two free throws following the technicals.

NU opened play in the second half with five consecutive points from Vukusic and guard T.J. Parker, closing the gap to 10 points.

The Spartans responded with a 17-9 run during the next 5:37 to increase their lead to 18, the largest differential in the game.

But by 6:16, the Cats had again closed the gap, this time to a meager six points. Guard Mohamed Hachad keyed the run, scoring eight of his 10 points in the second half.

“Mohamed was terrific out there,” Carmody said. “He really got us going.”

After Torbert was called for goaltending on Vukusic’s layup with 4:06 left, the Spartans’ lead had dwindled to five.

But on Michigan State’s next possession, guard Maurice Ager put a dagger in NU’s heart. His 3-pointer with 3:37 left gave Michigan State a 63-55 lead and NU came no closer than seven points the rest of the way.

Michigan State converted 50 percent of its field goals compared NU’s 43 percent mark.

NU proceeded to self-destruct after Ager’s shot. Vince Scott threw the ball away with three minutes left and Vukusic fired an airball with 1:42 left.

“In the second half, you could see our guys had used up so much energy,” Carmody said. “We just got off to a horrible start … and it was just too much to overcome.”

Reach Zach Silka at [email protected].