Evanston IL – Northwestern defeated No. 4 Michigan State at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, 79-65. It was Northwestern’s first time defeating an AP top-five team since 1979, when they also knocked off a No. 4-ranked Michigan State team led by Magic Johnson. The Spartans last led 4-2, then never again as the Wildcats had as close to a wire-to-wire win as you can get. Sophomore Boo Buie led the Wildcats with 30 points, almost a year to the day that he scored 26 against the Spartans.
The Wildcats, who came into the game seventh in the country in scoring with just over 93 points per game, got off to a hot start at home with a 9-0 run before the first TV timeout. Junior forward Pete Nance (15 points, 12 rebounds) made sure that the Spartans could not win the battle on the glass early, as he ate up four quick boards and made nice outlet passes, including one which led to a slam by transfer sophomore Chase Audige (four points, three rebounds).
Northwestern continued to apply pressure on the Spartans in the first half, playing with a pacey style reminiscent of how the Spartans played to open their season. Buie drove relentlessly and found shooters in the corner. That energy fed the Northwestern offense, and they continued to get good looks against a solid defense. He was the best player on the floor all night, and the Spartans never had an answer for him.
It did not help that Michigan State started shakily from three, hitting four of their first 12. Great team defense from Northwestern, anchored by a couple of stellar possessions from sophomore forward Robbie Beran seemed to frustrate the Spartan offense.
Buie singlehandedly seemed to wear the defense out and was successful on his first three three-point attempts, the third of which gave NU an 11-point lead and forced Tom Izzo to call a timeout to stop the bleeding.
Coming out of the timeout, Spartan star forward Aaron Henry (11 points, three assists) made his first real imprint on the game. Northwestern again tried to get out on the break, but Henry broke up an attempted alley-oop. Teammate Joey Hauser (five points, two boards) collected the board and fed Henry, who rushed to the rim and threw down a fierce dunk with his left hand as if to signal that he had had enough of Northwestern’s run. It was a clear picture of the two-way potential that Henry has.
Hauser, who transferred from Marquette and sat out last season, has been a key figure for Michigan State to start the year. Coming into the game, he was averaging 13.3 points and 10 rebounds, which leads the Big Ten, along with 42 percent three-point shooting. Unfortunately, just before halftime he suffered a slight knee-to-knee collision, which knocked him out for about eight minutes of game time. He returned, but never quite looked up to the task of following the pace that Northwestern came out with.
The Wildcats led the Spartans 43-30 at half behind 11 points and nine rebounds from Pete Nance in 15 first-half minutes.
The two teams traded buckets to start the second half, but Buie continued to wreak havoc. He hit a nifty runner coming across the lane first, then added another three.
Malik Hall (10 points, nine rebounds), a Michigan State sophomore from nearby Aurora, Ill., added a serious bench presence to the Spartan attack and gave them quality minutes and energy. He added four rebounds and four points in the first four minutes of the second half and kept the Northwestern lead stable. However, no one else on Michigan State could get anything going, as they missed nine consecutive shots as the NU lead ballooned to 21 midway through the second half.
Buie got the best of MSU sophomore Rocket Watts all night. Watts came into the game averaging 13 points and five assists. Watts struggled to find his shot (2-for-9) and got burned one-on-one against Buie too often. It was interesting that Henry was not assigned to defend Buie after he had already scored 21 with ten minutes remaining.
Michigan State responded with a 9-0 run of their own out of a timeout, coming from a simple pin-down action to free up Hauser and a strong drive plus the foul for Henry.
After a terrible start to the game (1-for-6, three fouls and two turnovers), Audige came up with a great steal acting as the top of a 3-2 zone, then forced another turnover by fighting through a screen at the top of the zone. The second turnover led to a fast break layup for him that put the Wildcats up 15 with five minutes to go.
Michigan State was never able to overcome the deficit from Northwestern as most of their starters (Henry, Hauser, Watts) had their worst games of the year.
Next up, Northwestern (4-1, 1-0) travels to Bloomington to take on Indiana (5-2) on Wednesday while Michigan State (6-1 0-1) hosts No. 12 Wisconsin (6-1) on Christmas Day.