It was really a tale of two halves this afternoon as Northwestern welcomed number two Michigan State. The Wildcats were absolutely dominant in the first 20 minutes, leading by 22 points heading into halftime. However, with their backs up against the wall, the Spartans mounted a comeback.
Thanks to some incredibly stifling defense, Michigan State was able to battle back into the game. Despite Miles Bridges being in a bit of foul trouble in the second half, it was Cassius Winston who led the Spartans back. Northwestern was completely incapable of handling the physical and swarming brand of defense the Spartans employed. Michigan State was able to tie the game just before the eight minute media timeout.
The Spartans took their first lead of the game with five and a half minutes remaining in the game. Michigan State did not look back, winning the game 65-60.
Here are some takeaways from the game.
What We Learned
1. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is Northwestern’s favorite novel.
Now, I have watched quite a bit of basketball in my lifetime. Never have I seen a team play so well in the first half and so poorly in the second. I mean, the Wildcats were up by 27 points at one point! They scored 49 points in one half and held Michigan State to only 27 points in 20 minutes. Northwestern was poised to return to the Big Ten bubble conversation.
Then, they came out and only scored 11 total points in 20 minutes. Not only that, they only made three total field goals in the second half. As a team, they shot just 12 percent from the field in the final frame. That is unbelievable, and a polar opposite of the team we saw in the first half.
So, what the hell happened? It began with swarming defense on the part of Michigan State. This forced Northwestern to take tough shot attempts. Obviously, they missed most of these attempts, dwindling the confidence they once had. By game’s end, the Wildcats had to be so mentally degraded that they were afraid to even shoot the basketball. It was truly hard and sad to see the vast change in Northwestern over the course of the game.
2. Cassius Winston is a very bad man.
The sophomore guard has clearly established himself as one of Michigan State’s leaders as the season has worn on. Today, he proved to be possibly the most valuable asset to Tom Izzo and the team’s potential successes in the postseason. Michigan State was down as many as 27 points in this game. Most teams would have thrown in the towel when they saw a 22 point deficit staring at them at the half. Cassius Winston and the Spartans were not even phased.
Miles Bridges picked up his third foul with about 15 minutes left in the game. Winston took command of the game with Bridges out and the Spartans still down double figures. He canned a few massive three-pointers down the stretch and led the team back. Bridges came back into the game and picked up his fourth foul soon after checking back in. Again, it was Winston who made the big plays with the result of the game still in question.
When the final horn rang out and the scoreboard showed Michigan State on top, Winston finished with 13 second half points. All together, he scored 17 points, dished out seven assists, and snared nine rebounds. So now it is clear that Winston can be a viable go-to guy when Miles Bridges or Jaren Jackson are struggling or are in foul trouble. Look for Winston to be more offensively involved as the postseason draws near.
3. Northwestern’s hopes of becoming a bubble team are now gone.
The Wildcats were already on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. However, they hold a quality Big Ten win against Michigan. An impending blowout of Michigan State was sure to thrust them back into the bubble team conversation. By game’s end, they were even further from the bubble discussion than before.
Unfortunately, it now seems that the Northwestern Wildcats will not be making a repeat appearance to the NCAA Tournament. They just do not have the wins to even be considered a bubble team. A team like Indiana or even Penn State deserve to be in the conversation instead of the Wildcats.
In the end, the Spartans imposed themselves as the number two team in the nation. They deserved this game solely based on their phenomenal second half performance. It is games like these that shape really good basketball teams, which Michigan State is. This victory will only help the Spartans as they prepare themselves for a potential deep postseason run.
The Wildcats still have three winnable games remaining on their Big Ten schedule. They will take on Maryland on Monday followed by games against Wisconsin and Iowa to round out the season. As for the Spartans, they have two very manageable games against the Badgers and Illinois. So, barring an upset of epic proportions, it seems as though Michigan State will hold on to win the Big Ten regular season championship.