Rapid Recap: Michigan State 79, Northwestern 50

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Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Pat Spencer gets hit as he shoots. The graduate transfer guard finished with 11 points on Wednesday.

John Riker, Assistant Sports Editor

After playing ranked No. 19 Illinois and No. 15 Maryland squads surprisingly close the past couple weeks, Northwestern had good reason to think they could put in a scare in a road matchup against No. 14 Michigan State.

Instead, the battle between the Big Ten’s best and worst looked the part. The Wildcats (6-14, 1-9 in Big Ten) shot just 35% from the field, while the Spartans (16-5, 8-2) enjoyed double digit performances from guard Cassius Winston and forward Xavier Tillman en route to a lopsided 79-50 win.

NU looked sluggish out of the gates, tallying more turnovers (5) than points (2) in the game’s opening seven minutes. The Cats weren’t much better on the defensive end, as Michigan State’s inside penetration helped them build an early 16-2 lead.

Momentum flipped over the next ten minutes. Graduate transfer guard Pat Spencer sparked the offense with a couple of layups and crisp assists, enabling NU to make a 13-2 run to pull within three of the Spartans.

The teams alternated runs for the rest of the half, but Michigan State had the last laugh, heading into halftime with a double-digit lead with scores on their last three possessions.

The Spartans parlayed their hot hand into the second half and extended their lead to 20 points with 14 minutes to go. NU failed to get their offense going in the frame, and Michigan State stretched their lead to as many as 35 points in the game’s final minutes.

1. Pat Spencer is NU’s Go-To Guy
In what has to be considered one of NU’s roughest Big Ten performances this season, graduate transfer guard Pat Spencer was a bright spot. Miller Kopp is arguably the team’s best shooter, Pete Nance is arguably the most athletic Cat and freshmen Boo Buie and Ryan Young are NU’s future, but when the Cats have needed a play the past couple games, they turn to Spencer.

Spencer’s physical drives to the basket and his ability to create shots for himself elevate the NU offense, and his best performances come at the times when the Cats need it most. Tuesday was no exception, as Spencer outmuscled Michigan State’s guards and broke the Cats out of their early slump, but he couldn’t will the NU offense back in the game when the Spartans made their move.

2. Spencer’s Supporting Cast Struggled
When Michigan State got hot late in the first half and continued piling up points in the second, the Cats couldn’t respond. Kopp was held under double digits for the first time since NU last played the Spartans on December 18, while Buie, Nance and Robbie Beran combined for a brutal 4-for-19 from the field. In total, the Cats scored 50, their second-lowest output of the season.

3. Spartans Own the Paint
Ryan Young and the NU frontcourt have endured a conveyor belt of intimidating big men the past couple weeks, and the Cats looked outmanned once again down low. In the first half, Spartans held a decisive advantage on the boards, pulling in 10 offensive rebounds to NU’s one in the first half, and converted those rebounds into easy points to build a solid halftime lead.

Michigan State finished the game with 18 more rebounds than the Cats, with junior forward Xavier Tillman nearly notching a double double with 12 points and 8 boards. The schedule won’t do NU any favors going forward, and if the Cats can’t solve its woes down low, it will be a rough February in Evanston.

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Twitter: @thejohnriker

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