Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Men’s Basketball: No win, but defensive gains bolster NU play

Something is going well for Northwestern when its three leading scorers combine for eight points in a half and the Wildcats own a five point advantage. So when NU found itself ahead 23-18 against Michigan State – a team that has lost at home just five times in the past two and a half years – something was going really well.

And it wasn’t on offense.

After breaking out for 90 points against Indiana and Iowa, it was the Cats’ defense that kept them in the game against the Spartans. NU limited Michigan State to a season-low 18 points on 6-of-23 shooting in the first half.

“They always play tough, but we came out with the right mentality,” junior center Luka Mirkovic said. “We kind of kept ourselves in the game by playing well defensively.”

Down 6-1 five minutes into the game, the Cats switched into their 1-3-1 defense, befuddling the already turnover-prone Spartans. Over the next four-and-a-half minutes, the Spartans went 0-for-4, coughing up the ball three times. Meanwhile, NU clawed back, notching six unanswered points to take a one-point lead.

The Spartans’ struggles were especially apparent in the paint, where Michigan State missed five layups and notched just four points. When the two teams met on Jan. 3, the Spartans recorded 35 first-half points, with 18 coming in the paint. They also held a 23-14 advantage on the boards. The rebound differential Saturday at halftime was just four.

“We did a lot of good switching and we handled ball screens well,” Mirkovic said. “We were rebounding well defensively.”

NU’s prowess in the paint was most evident in its ability to contain Michigan State’s Draymond Green. After burning the Cats for 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half two weeks ago in Evanston, Green tallied just two points and three boards in the first 20 minutes Saturday.

“(The 1-3-1 defense) is very effective,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “What it causes is it spreads you out so much you kind of forget to go inside … They got us out of sync and did a very good job of it.”

The Spartans altered their strategy in the second half, and rather than settling for threes, Michigan State varied its shot selection. Not including layups, the Spartans took just five shots inside the arc in the first half. After intermission, Michigan State managed nine attempts from inside the arc. By playing Green at the top of the key, the Spartans were able to draw Mirkovic away from the basket. NU’s center did not grab a single rebound in the second half.

A 59 percent free throw shooter coming into the game, Green went 10-for-10 from the line Saturday, with eight of those points coming in the final minute of regulation and overtime.

“In the first half we did a pretty good job (preventing Green from getting offensive rebounds),” coach Bill Carmody said. “But in crunch time, Green got some big ones. I don’t know if it was our defending or the fact that they were just looking for isolation plays with their guards.”

Green was limited by foul trouble in the second stanza, but when it mattered most, he saved the Spartans once again. In the final 37 seconds, Green sank six free throws and pulled down three rebounds. Green’s last two tries from the charity stripe, which he earned after getting fouled while grabbing his own rebound with 11 seconds left, tied the score at 60.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Men’s Basketball: No win, but defensive gains bolster NU play