Spartan Stunner: Northwestern knocks off No. 7 Michigan State

Dan Ryan

At halftime, Northwestern’s matchup with No. 6 Michigan State looked very much like its losses to Illinois and No. 13 Michigan. Learning from their past mistakes, the Wildcats refused to let another important victory slip away.

Junior forward John Shurna scored a game-high 22 points and senior forward Davide Curletti contributed 17 in his second career start as NU upset Michigan State 81-74 on Saturday, breaking a 15-game winning streak for the Spartans.

The win was much needed for the Cats after back-to-back heartbreaking conference losses.

“We’ve had two agonizing losses against Illinois and the overtime game at Michigan,” coach Bill Carmody said. “It was two possessions from being 3-1, and you’re 1-3.”

Michigan State (15-3, 4-1 Big Ten) opened the game on a 12-6 run, torching NU’s 1-3-1 defense by hitting contested shots. Behind three three-pointers in the first 10 minutes by forward Draymond Green, the Spartans opened up a nine-point lead.

“We didn’t start off great,” Carmody said. “We didn’t stop them in the first

half. They made every shot they took. But they turned it over eight or nine times, so we were fortunate that way.”

Then Shurna and Curletti took over.

The pair combined for 22 first-halfpoints, allowing junior guard Alex Marcotullio to give the Cats the lead by nailing a three with one minute and 21 seconds remaining in the opening frame. Michigan State responded with a three of its own, but a falling-down Shurna gave NU a two-point advantage going into halftime with an acrobatic trey. Curletti was the catalyst of NU’s offensive run, scoring 13 first-half points and grabbing three offensive boards.

“The Energizer bunny – Curletti, he really brought something to the table today, ” Carmody said. “In the first half he got some offensive rebounds, sort of snatched them out of guys’ hands. He got everyone psyched up.”

“I try to be the energy guy whenever I can,” Curletti said. “In practice, in games, on the bench, at all times.”

The game marked the third-straight time NU brought a lead into halftime, bringing up memories of the losses to Illinois and Michigan.

This time, however, was different.

“We told them at halftime that you can’t just be competing,” Carmody said. “You’ve got to take the game. You’ve got to be the aggressor. You have to go after it a little harder.”

Led by junior forward Drew Crawford, who had 11 of his 20 points in the second half, the Cats extended their lead after the half, pushing their advantage to as many as 12 with six minutes left in the game. Crawford, who was a game-time decision because of the stomach flu, helped keep NU from reliving its past two contests.

“I knew I was going to play the whole time,” Crawford said. “The training staff did a great job of helping me get better. Once the game started, I see Davide working hard, I see all my teammates working so hard, it kind of fuels you and gets you going.”

“A lot of guys play when they’re sick,” Carmody added. “But not a lot of guys play well when they’re sick. He certainly did tonight.”

Despite a couple late runs from Michigan State, NU never allowed the Spartans to get within four points of their lead after the 13-minute mark and put the game away to give the program its first win against a top-ten ranked team since Carmody’s squad beat No. 6 Purdue two years ago.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had nothing but praise for NU after the game.

“I had a couple concerns all week in our prep for these guys,” Izzo said. “They were a much better team. They could have won the Michigan game and the Illinois game both, and if they were 13-3, everybody would be talking about how this is an incredible matchup.

“They deserved to win the game,” Izzo added. “We didn’t.”

NU now faces two tough road challenges against Wisconsin and Minnesota, but Curletti said he’ll be ready for any opponent, no matter his role in the upcoming contests.

“I’ve been coming off the bench my whole career,” Curletti said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether I start or come off the bench as long as we get big wins like this.”

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