First, it was jubilation and shock. Then, it was disappointment and – for many Northwestern basketball cynics – confirmation of what this team is. On Saturday afternoon at Allstate Arena, Northwestern Men’s Basketball (15-13, 6-9 Big Ten) allowed Michigan State (16-3, 14-2 Big Ten) to come back from 27 points down to defeat the Wildcats, 65-60. It was the biggest comeback in Big Ten basketball history, and it came at a time when a quality win was needed to give Northwestern fans a silver lining after a disappointing season.
Excuses can be made. Bryant McIntosh, the team’s leader, was out. Michigan State had more to play for. There were questionable calls that went the Spartans’ way, like a jump ball with a minute left prompting this response from Chris Collins:
When you see Chris Collins's contract. pic.twitter.com/zVzUILAh0r— ben (@BenG412) February 17, 2018
But when these Northwestern players and coaches look themselves in the mirror, they have to admit: there is something missing from this team, an intangible quality, that they have unsuccessfully tried to find this season. Last year’s team would never have blown a 27-point lead down the stretch. And this year’s team is incapable of coming out on top of the nail-biter, edge-of-your-seat games like they did last year against Michigan and Vanderbilt. It is beyond frustrating that this team is talented enough to go up by so much against arguably the best team in the country, with the opportunity for a top 5 win that has eluded the program for 39 years, and go home empty. Anyway, here’s the recap.
The first half was the most complete half the Wildcats have played all season. Despite a crowd that was significantly more green than purple, Northwestern hit 60% of their shots, including a blistering 8-13 from 3 point range. Meanwhile, Michigan State shot just 33.3% and committed 6 turnovers. Vic Law (21 points, 5 assists) paced the NU offensive as he scored 18 points in the half. At one point, shortly after a Gavin Skelly (11 points) and-one to put the ‘Cats up 43-16, Michigan State had a measly 2.1% chance to win.
Michigan State's lowest win probability was 2.1% (3:28 1st half).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 17, 2018
Northwestern scored 11 Pts in
the 2nd half, tied for the fewest by a D-I team after halftime this season (Longwood had 11 vs UNC Greensboro on Nov. 21). pic.twitter.com/Mo2uZPBwLt
Then the impossible happened. Thanks to a combination of increasingly staunch defense from the Spartans and horrid shooting from Northwestern, including a number of botched layups, the Wildcats were held to 11 points in the second half. A significant chunk of the second half saw them miss 17 shots in a row. Meanwhile, MSU point guard Cassius Winston (17 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists) had his way with the NU defense, hitting 3 clutch three-pointers down the stretch, and freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. rejuvenated the Spartans with 9 points in 7 second half minutes. The result was a desperate Wildcat comeback in the final 5 minutes of the game that felt hopeless. The Spartans moved into 1st in the Big Ten and Northwestern fell deeper into the abyss.
That’s all we can say about that.
Northwestern next plays on Monday vs. Maryland at Allstate Arena.