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Five Observations: Northwestern ends Michigan State's 9-game win streak

The Spartans were outplayed and out-toughed by the Wildcats, and suffer their first Big Ten defeat

Michigan State had three attempts in the final 30 seconds to tie or win the game, but the Spartans were denied all three times by Northwestern as the Wildcats upset the No. 10 Spartans on Saturday, 64-62.

Trailing by two with 30 seconds left, head coach Tom Izzo called timeout to draw up a set for the Spartans. On the first attempt, junior Julius Marble lost his handle on the ball which resulted in a tie-up, but the possession arrow favored the Spartans with 13 seconds left.

On the second attempt, junior Malik Hall missed an open three-point attempt, but Northwestern was called for a travelling violation after a defensive rebound. On the third and final attempt, with one second left, Joey Hauser tried to inbound to Marcus Bingham Jr., who was fouled while attempting to catch the ball. Bingham Jr. missed the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity at the free throw line, and the Wildcats secured the rebound for the win.

After escaping with a two-point home win over Minnesota on Wednesday, there was a sense that Michigan State was due to let one of these games get away from them, and Northwestern took advantage today.

Michigan State came out sluggish in this one, as the Wildcats jumped to a 12-4 lead in the opening minutes. The Spartans punched back with a 15-3 run to take a 19-15 lead, but the first half was a back-and-forth affair from there.

After five lead changes and six ties, Northwestern took a 38-33 lead into their locker room at halftime. Turnovers were once again a big issue for Michigan State, as the Spartans had 12 giveaways in the first half alone.

Michigan State trailed 46-39 early in the second half before going on an 11-0 run to take a 50-46 lead. The Wildcats responded however, going on an extended 16-6 run as the Spartans' offense went cold. Northwestern led 62-56 with just over two and a half minutes left.

Michigan State cut that deficit back down to two, giving themselves a chance to force overtime, or win the game in the closing seconds. But Northwestern's defensive effort was iron-tight in those final 30 seconds and the Spartans came up short.

1. Turnovers, offensive rebounds plague Spartans again

Tom Izzo can wax poetic about working on Michigan State's turnover problems all he wants, but the fact of the matter is this is what his Spartans are. MSU followed up 12 first half turnovers with five more in the second frame for a ghastly total of 17. Northwestern turned those giveaways into 16 points. We are over two months into the season, and at this point its hard to imagine this problem going away in the 2021-22 season.

In addition, Michigan State has now had back-to-back games in which they've struggled to secure defensive rebounds. After surrendering 12 offensive rebounds in their last game against Minnesota, the Spartans allowed 17 offensive boards to Northwestern today. Michigan State was fortunate that those only led to 16 second-chance points for the Wildcats. These two areas — turnovers and offensive rebounds — were the factors that led to the Spartans' loss today.

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2. Marcus Bingham Jr. — another no show

Through the first two months of the season, Marcus Bingham Jr. was arguably Michigan State's best or second-best player. The senior was scoring in double-figures, grabbing rebounds at a high clip and affecting opposing offenses with his shot-blocking ability. But Saturday marked the third consecutive game in which Bingham Jr. was mostly a non-factor.

The senior was held to 2 points, 2 rebounds and had 3 turnovers in only 12 minutes played in this one, as Izzo turned to other options. This comes off a 6-point, 2-rebound effort against Minnesota and a 4-point, 4-rebound game against Nebraska for Bingham Jr. Michigan State is going to need more production than this from its starting center.

3. Bench points

For the second consecutive game, Michigan State's bench production was a key part of the game for the Spartans. After 18 bench points on Wednesday against Minnesota, Michigan State's bench outscored the starters on Saturday with 37 of the Spartans' 62 total points.

Julius Marble had his best game as a Spartan on a day when Michigan State really needed it. The junior finished with a career-high 18 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting, and added four rebounds and a blocked shot. It's unfortunate that Marble's big day came in a losing effort but, with Bingham Jr.'s struggles of late, we may be seeing more of the junior moving forward.

Malik Hall also had a solid day off the bench for MSU, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds.

4. Michigan State backcourt struggles

This was not a banner day for the Spartans' backcourt, as Tyson Walker (2-of-5), Max Christie (1-of-8), AJ Hoggard (2-of-4) and Jaden Akins (0-of-2) combined for 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting, and combined for eight of Michigan State's 17 turnovers. Christie has been playing really good basketball of late, so this game was something of an aberration for him. The freshman was also pretty solid defensively and came away with three blocked shots. Walker has also been playing better of late, but probably should have been more aggressive today. Hoggard handed out five assists, but also had three turnovers. Akins, meanwhile, has shown flashes this season but is still trying to find his role. Michigan State's backcourt was badly outplayed by Northwestern's backcourt on Saturday.

5. The road gets tougher

This was a bad loss for Michigan State. Northwestern is a solid team, but they were missing their best player in Pete Nance, and the Spartans were at home. With this loss, MSU falls into second place in the Big Ten standings behind Illinois, and has two tough road games back-to-back. The Spartans will travel to No. 13 Wisconsin on Friday, before a matchup with the first place Fighting Illini the following Tuesday in Champaign, Ill. If Michigan State can earn a split in those two road games they will still be in good shape in the conference standings, but this home loss to the Wildcats could prove costly down the stretch.