MSU downs Northwestern in gritty effort
East Lansing — There have been plenty of flashbacks for Michigan State this week, and that’s not just because the Izzone alumni was on hand Friday night at the Breslin Center.
For the second straight game, Michigan State was in an old-fashioned Big Ten battle, one that wasn’t a place for finesse. And for the second straight game, the Spartans found a way to win.
An offensive masterpiece it was not, but Michigan State played one of its best defensive games of the season, beating Northwestern, 61-52, to stay unbeaten in the Big Ten.
“Wow, we’ve been in two wars,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “But I’m proud of my team. I thought we battled. Defensively, we were pretty good most of the night. I thought offensively we played so good in the first half and so poor in the second half, but Northwestern deserves some credit for that.
“It wasn’t always pretty, it wasn’t always great, but we gutted some things out.”
Alvin Ellis scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds while Cassius Winston scored 15 points and handed out six assists for Michigan State (10-5, 2-0 Big Ten). Nick Ward chipped in 11 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
It was the second straight solid game for Ellis, a senior who scored a career-high 20 points in the victory over Minnesota on Tuesday.
“I’m very pleased, and that’s what a senior should do,” Izzo said of Ellis. “Alvin, we made him earn his way back and to his credit he has and it’s helping us and I think it’s helping him. That’s the beauty of college, the neat thing about the process of growing up.
“I’m happy for Alvin and happy for us because he’s been a big part of our resurgence here.”
The resurgence was clear early in the game as the Spartans were executing on both ends of the floor and opened a 19-point first-half lead. However, it was the defense that sustained as the Wildcats shot just 35.8 percent (19-for-53) from the field, allowing Michigan State to hold off several Northwestern runs in the second half.
The Wildcats trimmed a seven-point halftime deficit to four 30 seconds into the second half and pulled within 48-44 with 12:15 to play. Each time, however, Michigan State was able to pull away and held on over the final minutes.
Vic Law scored 16 for Northwestern (12-3, 1-1) while Scottie Lindsey added 11 points for the Wildcats.
“I thought Michigan State was just a little tougher than we were tonight,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “We get it back to four and we had three or four possessions and didn’t execute very well. Give Michigan State’s defense credit for that. I thought they defended us well all night.”
Michigan State controlled the early part game, playing stifling defense and forcing Northwestern to miss 11 of its first 13 shots as the Spartans raced to a 28-9 lead with seven minutes to play in the half.
However, the Wildcats began chipping away, first with an 8-0 run to bring them within 11 then a flurry late in the half that included a contested 3-pointer from Lindsey and a deep jumper at the buzzer by Bryant McIntosh to cut the Spartans’ lead to 36-29 at the break.
But Michigan State, which had a tough time in close games early in the season, responded in the second half and put the game away late.
“Sometimes you need a win like that where you dig deep within yourself,” junior guard Lourawls Nairn Jr. said. “We’re learning how to win games and getting consistent stops and key stops and that’s big-time for us. It definitely shows the growth in our team.”