Men’s Basketball: No. 10 Michigan State outlasts Northwestern in regular season finale

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Daily file photo by Kaitlin Svabek

Freshman forward Kale Abrahamson looks to pass. Abrahamson scored a career-high 16 points Sunday against Michigan State.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Northwestern nearly had the storybook ending to the season it was looking for.

The Wildcats, losers of seven straight games entering East Lansing, Mich., trailed the Spartans by as many as 13 in the first half. Yet, with 5 minutes and 44 seconds remaining to play in regulation, No. 10 Michigan State (24-7, 13-5 Big Ten) and NU (13-18, 4-14)were knotted at 53. From there the Spartans asserted their dominance and pulled away for a 71-61 victory over the Cats.

“We sort of did what we were trying to do offensively,” coach Bill Carmody said. “If you’re going to beat a team like this you don’t have to be perfect, but you have to play really well and you have to knock down shots.”

What ultimately hurt NU was its poor start, when it fell behind 22-9 just 13 minutes into the contest. The Cats were shooting around 27 percent at the time and the offense was unable to create much separation for backdoor cuts. The Spartans’ pressure led to six NU turnovers in the first half which led to 10 points for Michigan State.

However, the Cats fought back and an 8-2 run in the final two minutes of the first half, punctuated by redshirt freshman Tre Demps’ 3-pointer with six seconds left, sent NU to the locker room down seven bubbling with confidence.

The Cats started the second half sluggishly, but went on a 12-4 run early in the second half to bring the deficit to three points. Michigan State was able to stretch the lead to nine, but NU fought back to tie the game at 51 and then again at 53. However, the Spartans responded with a 10-0 run to separate themselves for good.

NU’s savior was the play of the three freshmen in their lineup. Demps hit the crucial shot at the end of the half, but also helped run the offense in the middle of the second half. Forward Kale Abrahamson finished with a career-high 16 points and went 6-of-11 from the field. He said he felt like he played more within the system which helped him find more good looks.

“I was just staying within the offense,” Abrahamson said. “I got shots off screens. We were trying to work the defense and try to play us for 35 seconds.”

The other freshman star was center Alex Olah, who hit four of his five shots inside and finished with 10 points. However, his most helpful attribute was his physical play inside which helped to control Michigan State’s big men in the second half.

The Spartans outscored the Cats 28-12 in the paint in the first half, but NU’s improved interior defense limited Michigan State to just 12 points in the paint in the second half. Carmody said he was happy with how Olah played inside and said the game is starting to slow down for him.

“We tried to double team almost every time they touched the ball in the post,” Olah said. “I tried to deny the ball. I just had to be physical.”

The loss was NU’s third close call against a top-15 team since graduate student forward Jared Swopshire left the season with an injury. Abrahamson said the team can take something from the loss headed into the Big Ten Tournament next week in Chicago.

“At least we played well,” Abrahamson said. “For 36 minutes we played really well. If we can just tighten up those last four, that gives us a lot of confidence going in – about as much as you can with the way we’ve been losing games.

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