Takeaways: Northwestern stuns Michigan State 79-65
By Lawrence Price
Most would think the No. 4 team in the country would dominate any unranked opponent that came in their way, but it looks like Christmas came early for the Northwestern Wildcats.
In both teams’ first Big Ten matchup of the season, Northwestern upset Michigan State 79-65 Sunday night. The huge win ended the ‘Cats’ 12-game losing streak to the Spartans since Jan. 14, 2012, and was the school’s first win over a top-five team in the AP Poll since 1979.
It was clear what worked for Northwestern, or maybe I should say who: Boo Buie and Pete Nance.
The sophomore guard and the junior big man had their best game of the season yet. Buie dropped 30 points on 9-of-15 shooting, a career-high for the New York native, while Nance picked up his first double-double of the year with 15 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
It was clear the Wildcats meant business, as they jumped out to a 43-30 lead by halftime, shooting 52% from the field compared to Michigan State’s 35%, and maintained this performance for the rest of the game.
Usual point leaders for Northwestern forward Miller Kopp and guard Chase Audige struggled to get going, combining for nine points, but with Michigan State’s offensive woes as well, the Cats were able to capitalize.
Arguably the Wildcats’ biggest W in recent years, this is a major confidence booster for the squad going into their next matchup against Indiana Wednesday, and later down the road.
What this means for the Cats’ moving forward
The 3 ball is a major key to success
Let’s be honest. Although Northwestern played its best brand of basketball, Michigan State easily played its worst. The Spartans’ starters shot a total 14-of-38, including main playmaker Rocket Watts 2-of-11 performance, and the team hit eight threes out of, wait for it, 31. The Wildcats lucked out in this category, but that does not overlook how great they shot themselves, especially from the three.
Leading the charge, Boo Buie and Ty Berry both held the hot hand beyond the arc, combining for 8-of-10 shooting alongside the team’s 47% from deep. The only time Northwestern has not shot over 45% from three this season was in their one-point loss to Pitt (28%). Head Coach Chris Collins’ 2019-20 group finished 11th in the Big Ten for total three-point field goals made, but if they can continue to look to the three as a reliable source for points, and are successful at it, they will be able to compete day in and day out.
Miller Kopp and Chase Audige need to perform
Even though Sunday’s game was only Northwestern’s fifth outing, Kopp and Audige have solidified themselves as a key part of the team’s offense. One averaging 16.3 points-per-game and the latter 15.5, the team relies on their contributions, however, like I said earlier, both players were nearly nonexistent this game. Luckily, Buie and Nance picked up most of the workload for the Wildcats, but in the future, against not only an in-conference opponent, but a top five team like Michigan State, chances cannot be taken.
Entering this season, it was unspoken that Kopp would be looked at to produce a large amount of the team’s points after leading last year’s squad in that category, and Audige’s entrance into the picture was a bonus, but the schedule only gets tougher from here. If Northwestern wants to compete with other top schools, the two need to be on point here on out.
Pete Nance needs to be a double-double machine
The ‘Cats finished last in the Big Ten for rebounds per game last year, but decided to flip the script this year and currently find themselves on top of the conference. Nance’s impact on the boards is a major reason for this is, averaging 7.2 per game and 12 Sunday night to give him a double-double. In his sophomore campaign, the big man had only three of those through 30 games played.
With year three underway, the junior needs to embrace his stretch five role and continue to dominate on the glass for the rest of the season.
In my preview for the season, my major questions revolved around the trio of Buie, Kopp, and Nance, and really, it still comes down to their play and whether we will see a win or loss in the record books. Besides Pitt, Michigan State is the only competition Northwestern has truly faced, and with conference play beginning, no win will come easy. Great win for men’s basketball, but the team and everyone else knows that this is the start of a long journey.