Men’s Basketball: Northwestern bows out of Big Ten Tournament in loss to Michigan State

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Men’s Basketball: Northwestern bows out of Big Ten Tournament in loss to Michigan State

Coach Chris Collins hugs senior forward Drew Crawford as he ends his Northwestern career. Crawford moved into second place in NU's all-time scoring list during the 67-51 loss to Michigan State.

Coach Chris Collins hugs senior forward Drew Crawford as he ends his Northwestern career. Crawford moved into second place in NU's all-time scoring list during the 67-51 loss to Michigan State.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Coach Chris Collins hugs senior forward Drew Crawford as he ends his Northwestern career. Crawford moved into second place in NU's all-time scoring list during the 67-51 loss to Michigan State.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Coach Chris Collins hugs senior forward Drew Crawford as he ends his Northwestern career. Crawford moved into second place in NU's all-time scoring list during the 67-51 loss to Michigan State.

Ava Wallace, Sports Editor

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INDIANAPOLIS — Coming off an upset win, Northwestern had the momentum, but the Wildcats ran into a Michigan State team that looked NCAA Tournament-ready Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Cats struggled with the pace the Spartans set from the game’s onset; troubles with production and rebounding piled up as NU ultimately fell to Michigan State, 67-51, in its second-round game in the Big Ten Tournament.

After the game, the blowout score took a back seat to the end of senior forward Drew Crawford’s career and the future of the NU program.

“It’s a tough feeling, just because all the love there is in this program,” Crawford said of walking off the court for the last time. “I can say that I walked off happy, feeling like I gave my all to this program, and know that there’s nowhere I’d rather be for my last year. Looking back, I don’t regret that decision at all.”

Fittingly enough, it was Crawford who provided a second-half spark, both emotionally and offensively for NU after a dismal first half in which the Cats fell behind early.

The forward led the Cats with 21 points, his eighth 20-point game of the season, and scored 17 of his team’s 29 points in the second half. During the game, Crawford became the program’s second-leading scorer all-time, trailing behind only John Shurna.

Crawford left the court to a standing ovation, high-fived the coaching staff and hugged each of his teammates. The senior shared an intimate conversation with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who lauded Crawford for both his playing and his character after the game.

“He’s one of those kids in the league who you just kind of enjoy to go against, Izzo said. “He could have jumped ship last year. A lot of people would have tried to pick him up, and he didn’t … and it just shows you what a good kid he is.”

Coach Chris Collins spoke at length about how crucial Crawford was in his first season as a coach.

“He was an outstanding leader, and Drew and I, our arms were locked all year long,” Collins said. “And when a best player and a coach get a relationship like that, it forms a really strong unit, and that’s what we had, and that’s why we played so hard this year.”

But playing hard wasn’t enough for the Cats against a deep Spartans roster set to make a run at a national championship. Michigan State’s Branden Dawson led the team with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Gary Harris added 13 points and seven rebounds.

The Spartans also received significant contributions from at least four other players, including senior big man Adreian Payne and the aggressive Keith Appling.

Izzo said Michigan State’s strategy from the start of the tournament was to set pace during games and push on offense. He admitted his team’s depth was a particular blessing against NU.

The Spartans boasted an 18-point lead going into halftime as well as a 15-10 edge on rebounds, five turnovers to the Cats’ nine, and 14 points off of second-chance opportunities, compared to just 3 for NU.

Sophomore center Alex Olah was the only other player in double digits for the Cats, and though NU enjoyed had its moments, notably sophomore forward Kale Abrahamson’s crowd-pleasing deep first 3-pointer, Michigan State’s highlights were more impressive.

Big moments from Spartan players, more frequent in the second half, seemed to chip away at NU’s psyche, but not its resolve. The Cats’ outscored the Spartans 29-27 in the second half.

That team morale wasn’t lost on Collins.

He said the season’s ups and downs prepared his team for the pessimistic chatter that preceded NU’s tournament hopes and he was proud of the program’s never-say-die attitude.

“Our guys refused to hear that, because we’ve gone through times like that before earlier in the year,” Collins said. “You find out more about yourself when you have to go through tough times. As a player, as a coach, you find out what you got inside you, man. …I think we found some fighters.”

Email: AvaWallace2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @AvaRWallace

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