If ever there was a night for Northwestern to win a big game, Monday was the perfect opportunity.
The Wildcats had some of the nation’s finest young basketball recruits in the house, including Simeon sophomore Jabari Parker and De La Salle sophomores Alex Foster and Jaylon Tate. I saw Parker take a spin through the Northwestern locker room after the game.
They also had 6-foot-9, 227-pound redshirt freshman Donnavan Kirk in the house. Kirk, who exchanged pleasantries with fellow Detroit natives Alex Marcotullio and Davide Curletti (among others) after the game, just left the University of Miami and wants to land in the Midwest.
I’m not sure what the rules are, but Northwestern started its winter quarter today. If he’s going to be eligible to play for a team after its 2011 fall quarter/semester grades are posted, then he needs to get into a school quickly.
To greet these recruits, there were so many fans crammed into Welsh-Ryan Arena's standing-room areas that they ran out of standing room. (On two occasions in the second half, fans tried to sneak into AD Jim Phillips’ midcourt seats after he headed to the floor to pace and handle timeout presentations. The ushers were pretty sure the girls in MSU gear weren’t Phillips or his wife, so they got the boot…).
NU also needed a win over No. 18 Michigan State for its own sake. With no wins that register on the NCAA Tournament scale, the ‘Cats must take advantage of at least three of their five biggest Big Ten home games (MSU, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota).
Even though the Wildcats might have set some sort of Tom Izzo-era record by SHOOTING THE GAME’S FIRST 20 FREE THROWS, they couldn’t get into the game until it was all but too late.
Drew Crawford, who played like anything but a cutie-pie with a team-high 17 points and 8 rebounds, drilled a 3-pointer with 13:02 to go to pull NU within 49-46. But on the Wildcats’ next 14 possessions, they managed just 1 basket and 2 free throws as MSU pushed its lead to 63-50.
WHAT ELSE MATTERED
--John Shurna still didn’t have his legs underneath him due to his high left ankle sprain. He leaned in for a 3-pointer (and a free throw) on Northwestern’s first possession, but went 0 for 10 the rest of the way in his 39-minute stint.
As Bill Carmody pointed out afterward, Shurna could drive past some guys but didn’t have enough oomph left to finish the plays. And most of his outside shots came up short, another sign of a guy who can’t trust his shooting base.
Shurna continues to wear a walking boot when he's not on the court in order to protect his ankle.
--Michigan State went with three guards most of the night, yet still managed to dominate the boards (45-33) and block 12 shots. Freshman guard Keith Appling swatted 5 shots after not blocking any in the Spartans’ previous 12 games.
There were 34 missed shots at Michigan State’s basket. The Spartans retained possession on 14 of them. Strangely, though, NU outscored MSU on second-chance points 11-8…but the Spartans owned the paint scoring 30-17.
--Michigan State held Northwestern to a season-low for points (62) and a season-low for FG percentage (31.6). In fact, the Wildcats hadn’t shot worse than 40.3 percent prior to tonight.
Juice Thompson, who scored 9 of his 12 points during NU’s 12-0 run in the final 3:01, said the Spartans were physical with them. Guess that explains why MSU led NU in fouls 15-3 with 13 minutes left in the game.
--Draymond Green is just too stinking good. He’s the ultimate Northwestern killer because he’s big enough and physical enough to grab as many rebounds as he wants and to slow down Luka Mirkovic’s post moves. He’s big enough to set screens that affect the 1-3-1 trap and matchup zone, but he’s such a good passer that his presence in the middle allows him to pick apart the defenses.
Green finished with a team-high 15 points and 11 rebounds with 4 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal in 33 minutes. He shot 7 of 11 from the floor. He did commit 4 turnovers, mostly because he kept trying to make lob passes to guys who aren’t 6-foot-5.
--Senior Jeff Ryan didn’t dress tonight after sitting out the Purdue game. I believe it has to do with his surgically repaired knee, but I didn’t double-check after the game. Too much happened in the end…just not what Northwestern needed to have happen on this night.