By: Matt McHugh
The Northwestern Wildcats came into Thursday night’s matchup against the no. 12 Michigan State Spartans looking for a major upset to stop their three-game losing streak. Instead, they scored the fewest points in any game this season and lost 76-45 in a rout.
Michigan State (18-4, 5-4 Big Ten) was efficient from the field all game, shooting 50.9 percent. The Wildcats (15-7, 3-6 Big Ten) were the exact opposite, shooting a season-worst 20.7 percent from the field and just 4-23 from behind the arc.
“Our effort level was tremendous,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “This game had nothing to do with effort or lack of preparation. If you keep getting open shots and you miss them all, it wears on you mentally. Other parts of the game go south because when you can’t score it’s demoralizing.”
Although the Wildcats were able to limit the Spartans to 16 points in the paint, they had lots of trouble defending the three-point line. The Spartans started out 7-8 from three-point range, and finished 16-26.
Senior Denzel Valentine carried the Spartan offense, scoring 19 points on 7-11 shooting. Freshman Matt McQuaid also provided a spark off the bench for the Spartans, adding 17 points on 6-10 shooting.
“Valentine has worked on his shooting and ball handling for the last four years,” Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said. “No credit to the coaches on that one. He’s pretty self-made.”
Junior Sanjay Lumpkin, one of the Wildcats’ better defenders, had the task of defending Valentine. He said: “We have to do a better job running guys off the three-point line, especially when they’re hot like that.”
The Wildcats kept it close after allowing a 7-0 run to start the game, and they cut the deficit to just two with 10:44 to go in the first half. However, the Spartans went on a 21-6 run in the next six minutes, giving them a double-digit lead that they wouldn’t lose for the rest of the game.
The Wildcats came out of halftime down 12, but continued to be ice-cold from the field in the second half. The Spartans got their lead up to 20 points with 12:48 to go, and that effectively closed the book on the game.
“I feel for teams like this because it reminds me of my second and third year,” Izzo said. “I think they’ve got more talent and I think they’re going to be a good team but you have to make shots in this game.”
The Wildcats had trouble not only behind the arc, but also scoring in the paint. They scored just 12 points inside, and Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis had six blocks. Davis also added a game-high 11 rebounds, helping the Spartans to a 42-33 advantage on the glass.
Coming off of dominant performances in last Saturday’s loss at Indiana, seniors Tre Demps and Alex Olah struggled offensively, combining to score 8 points on 2-20 shooting. On Saturday, the pair combined for 36 points on 16-25 shooting. Olah has not played more than 20 minutes in any game since returning from a foot injury on Jan. 16.
“[Olah] doesn’t practice at all. He’s playing on a broken foot. He’s a senior and he’s trying to gut it out and get what he can. I thought [Deyonta] Davis’s presence at the rim bothered him, but when you don’t practice it’s hard.”
Bryant McIntosh and Aaron Falzon scored most of the points for the Wildcats, putting up 14 and 11 points, respectively. However, neither player was all that efficient from the field, as the duo made just 7 of 24 field goal attempts.
The Wildcats will travel to Iowa on Sunday to face the no. 3 Hawkeyes at 2 p.m.