Michigan State basketball still can't figure out Northwestern in 70-63 loss in Big Ten opener




EAST LANSING - Offensive flow and consistency remained an issue, and Michigan State basketball opened Big Ten play much like it finished November.

With a sour ending.

The 20th-ranked Spartans showed fight through their frustration but Northwestern displayed defensive grit and toughness all Sunday night, disrupting MSU for long stretches and hanging on for a 70-63 victory at Breslin Center in the conference opener for both teams.

The Spartans (5-4, 0-1 Big Ten) opened a seven-point lead over the first seven-plus minutes that vanished by halftime and flipped by the middle of the second half to a nine-point edge for the Wildcats (6-2, 1-0).

MSU cut it to a three-point game with 1:26 to play on A.J. Hoggard's driving layup and free throw. The junior, who came off the bench for the first time this season, drove again through heavy contact and no foul call to cut it to 64-63 with 45.3 ticks to go.

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But Northwestern senior Boo Buie, a problem for MSU throughout his career, drove past Hoggard and Mady Sissoko to finish in traffic with 23.9 seconds remaining. Joey Hauser missed a layup with about 13 seconds left, and Buie hit two free throws with 10.6 left to give the Wildcats their third win over the Spartans in the past four meetings.

Buie led Northwestern with 20 points and grabbed five rebounds. Chase Audige added 15 points, and Ty Berry scored 11 for the Wildcats, who shot 42.9% and withstood 7-for-23 shooting from 3-point range.

Hoggard finished with 12 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Sissoko added 12 points and five rebounds and Hauser scored 10 with eight boards, while Pierre Brooks and Tyson Walker each had nine points. MSU shot 41.8% and went 8-for-22 from deep while getting outrebounded, 31-30.

The Spartans travel to Penn State for a 6:30 p.m. tipoff Wednesday (BTN), their last of two Big Ten games this month.

Lineup shakeup

Jaden Akins returned after missing four games with an injury to his surgically repaired left foot, and Izzo immediately inserted the sophomore into the starting lineup. That came at the expense of Hoggard.

The Spartans came out shooting hot from outside and built a seven-point lead on Brooks' 3-pointer with 12:42 left in the first half. That came after a Hauser 3-pointer that was set up by an assist in transition from Walker, who started the run-out with a block on Buie at the rim.

But the Spartans struggled guarding the Wildcats, committing nine fouls in the opening half and sending them to the free-throw line 14 times. Northwestern hit 12 of those, including a three-point play from Buie after a Carson Cooper foul that put Northwestern up with 3 minutes left before halftime. Matthew Nicholson and Buie each hit a pair of free throws, but Cooper scored MSU's final four points of the period as the Spartans trailed at half, 38-37.

Jaden Akins (3) of the Michigan State Spartans handles the ball while defended by Julian Roper II (5) of the Northwestern Wildcats in the first half of the game at Breslin Center on December 4, 2022 in East Lansing, Michigan.
Jaden Akins (3) of the Michigan State Spartans handles the ball while defended by Julian Roper II (5) of the Northwestern Wildcats in the first half of the game at Breslin Center on December 4, 2022 in East Lansing, Michigan.  

Akins played 13:13 in the period and had three points, three assists and two steals at the break. MSU had balanced scoring, with eight of the 10 players who got in scoring as the Spartans shot 46.4% and went 5 for 9 from deep. Northwestern went just 4 of 11 from 3-point range, but Berry hit three of those to go into break tied for the Wildcats' lead with Buie at nine points apiece. They shot 50% as a team.

Hard time defending

Northwestern continued to get MSU into foul trouble early in the second half, most notably Walker.

The Spartans' point guard got called for an offensive foul, then picked up his fourth going for a block a little more than a minute later and went to the bench with 16:36 to play. Those two calls coincided with the start of an 11-4 Northwestern run in which Audige took a pair of MSU turnovers in for a dunk and a layup off his steals.

Izzo called timeout with 12 minutes left after the second giveaway, and the Spartans started inching back. Hauser hit a jumper and Brooks drained a 3-pointer, though the Wildcats found answers.

Walker returned with 9:03 to play, and Hoggard immediately found him with a skip pass for a 3-pointer. MSU cut it to a four-point game as Hoggard hit Sissoko for a dunk with 8:17 left.

Neither team could crack the other's defense over the next four-plus minutes, and the Wildcats held a 62-58 lead with four minutes left as Walker drew a charge on Buie despite being a foul away from leaving the game.

Contact Chris Solari: csolari@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball loses to Northwestern in 70-63 home loss

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