Northwestern (8-10, 1-4 Big Ten) entered Wednesday looking for its second-straight victory against a Top-25 team. The Wildcats were hosting No. 4 Michigan State (16-1, 5-0 Big Ten) and were sticking with the Spartans early in the second half, until the Spartans made a big run.
Junior Travis Trice and sophomore Matt Costello sparked a 15-6 run that put Michigan State ahead by 13 points in the final five minutes. Northwestern got no closer than 10 points from then on.
The Wildcats ultimately lost, 54-40, and did not make a field-goal in the last seven minutes.
Northwestern utilized a slow pace once again. In their upset over No. 23 Illinois on Sunday, the Wildcats played what was a season-low of 58 possessions.
They set a new-season low Wednesday, limiting the game to 54 possessions.
The strategy worked early on for Northwestern. The Wildcats held a 15-11 lead after nine minutes against the Spartans, who were without star forward Adreian Payne. Payne is a projected first-round pick for the 2014 NBA Draft.
Northwestern did not execute well late in the half with 1-of-4 shooting and two turnovers in the final four minutes.
Michigan State used a 4-0 spurt in the final 1:19 to take a 26-22 advantage to the locker room.
The Spartans quickly built their lead to eight points in the second half. The Wildcats never fully recovered, though they remained within two possessions inside of 10 minutes.
Sophomore Tre Demps basket with 7:22 kept Northwestern close at 44-37, but his score would be the Wildcats’ last from the field.
“We’re having a hard time getting in easy baskets,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said. “We have to be opportunistic. If we get a rebound, if we get a steal, we have to try to get out there and get a layup or two.”
Demps paced Northwestern with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
Redshirt senior Drew Crawford, an All-Big Ten selection as a junior, struggled once more with only six points on 1-of-8 shooting and four turnovers. Crawford also missed the front end of a 1-and-1 in the second half.
Michigan State sophomore Gary Harris tallied game-highs of 14 points and four steals.
He got help from senior Keith Appling with 11 points, four rebounds and three steals, and junior Branden Dawson with six points, 11 rebounds and three blocks off the bench.
Northwestern returns to action Saturday at Indiana.
All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.