Michigan State lead Northwestern 30-28 at halftime, but despite being down two points, it looked like Northwestern might actually have control of the game. Unfortunately, it didn’t take Michigan State long to extend their lead and completely gain control of the game in the second half. While they settled for 11 three point attempts in the first half, in the second half Michigan State shot only 4 threes. Instead, they worked the ball inside against Northwestern’s 1-3-1 zone and rushed down the court to get easy looks (i.e. dunks) in transition. The result was Michigan State shooting 75% in second half overall and 81% on two point field goal attempts. Credit has to go to Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo for making a coaching adjustment which essentially turned the game in his favor.
Of course, Izzo’s ability to make that adjustment has a lot to do with the fact he has a team of superior athletes. Even if Bill Carmody wanted Northwestern to push the ball in transition, I don’t think their effort would be anywhere near Michigan State’s. As far as attacking the 1-3-1, Michigan State’s superior inside athletic skill helped their as well. What also helped was it was clearly evident Michigan State had been fully prepped for facing the 1-3-1. They seemed to know exactly where the openings were and what to do in order to get easy baskets. The day ended with Michigan State committing only 10 turnovers (NU had 11) and getting six steals (NU had 4). Last season Northwestern dominated both those categories in their huge upset win. If NU wants to pull off wins later this year they have to get back to regularly forcing turnovers.
NU made a couple unique personal moves tonight. Kyle Rowley played only three minutes, probably because he didn’t matchup with MSU’s athletic front court. In place of Rowley, Davide Curletti played 18 minutes. Curletti didn’t score, but he did grab 3 rebounds and get 4 assists. That was better than starter Luka Mirkovic who really struggled tonight and ended up with 4 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers. I honestly think Mirkovic could matchup with MSU’s inside players, but he didn’t seem comfortable or confident tonight.
Mike Capocci played 9 fairly strong minutes. He scored 4 points (including a nice dunk on a backdoor pass) and got 2 rebounds. I think Capocci is clearly earning more time and should be used as a backup for Drew Crawford. NU’s guards, however, have virtually no reserve support. Michael “Juice” Thompson played 39 minutes and stayed on the court until he fouled out. Thompson didn’t have a great game shooting only 2-of-8 overall and 1-of-5 from behind the arc. Much like the game in Evanston, MSU did a great job defending Thompson and taking him out of NU’s offense. Drew Crawford had similar struggles with his shot. He finished 3-of-9 from the floor.
NU did get 31 points from John Shurna and Jeremy Nash made 3-of-5 shots and dished out 3 assists without a turnover. Shurna’s 31 points came on a lot of shots (23) and he made 6-of-13 threes. That might seem like a lot of shots, but at times it seemed like NU’s other players didn’t want to shoot the ball.
Northwestern ends January 3-6 in the Big Ten and 4-6 overall for the month. John Shurna has asserted himself as one of the Big Ten’s best offensive players and despite a poor game tonight, Luka Mirkovic has started to give NU an inside game. With their wins over Purdue and Illinois, the Wildcats made a case for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament. Now they have to build on that case by being victorious in a number of “should-win” contests in February and March.