Still, Michigan State had the final punch left it in, as it came out on top with a back-and-forth, up-and-down 84-77 overtime win against Northwestern.
But after what coach Tom Izzo called a game “like the stock market,” he felt the wrong team came out victorious.
”The basketball gods tell you every year that every year you lose some you should've won and you win some you should've lost,” Izzo said. “Today's one we should've lost and we won, but I'll tell you the three we should've won we lost.”
But the win did not have the satisfying feel it could have if the Spartans held onto an early 14-point lead – or late 11-point lead – to build on a 20-point blowout of Indiana and gritty comeback win at Iowa. And that left Izzo frustrated.
“He was more frustrated about how we played and let the lead slip away,” senior Travis Trice said. “We had a chance to bury them and we didn’t.”
Trice had another big game with a game-high 18 points and 10 assists – his first career double-double. With his play looking like it carried over a huge second half at Iowa, it looked like the whole team had it clicking still from the 75-61 win on Thursday as the Spartans got out to a 23-9 lead just 8:47 into the game. But the Wildcats went on a 21-7 run behind a flurry of 3-pointers – including a pair from Nate Taphorn – to tie it 30-30.
Going into the half tied 40-40, Izzo said he saw a confidence in Northwestern – something his team lacked at the time after giving up a big lead. Still, neither team could pull away for the early portion of the second half as neither led by more three points for the first 6:45 after the break.
When Denzel Valentine, who was benched to start the second half for his play on both ends, checked in with 12:38, Michigan State went on a 17-2 run – including a Javon Bess free throw while Valentine as at the scorers’ table. With a 66-55 lead, again Michigan State looked like it was on its way to an easy win.
The Wildcats had yet another run, this time a 15-2 run, to come back to lead 70-68 with 2:26 left. Valentine answered, though, to tie it 70-70.
After MSU gave up a pair of offensive rebounds, Bryn Forbes was called for a questionable foul on Northwestern’s Tre Demps, who hit a pair of free throws. Wildcats freshman Vic Law then was whistled for a questionable foul as well and Valentine hit both free throws to draw even again 72-72.
Overtime saw the Spartans finally finish the game as quick jumpers from Forbes and Trice gave MSU the lead as they went on to win the extra frame 12-5.
”We got the job done and we won but we shouldn’t have been in this position anyways,” Valentine said. “That’s why we are so mad.”
Valentine, despite battling an illness that left him fatigued, had 17 points as all five starters were in double figures. Branden Dawson fell one rebound short of his third straight double-double as he finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. Gavin Schilling also had 13 points, while Forbes finished with 11.
Michigan State now will have a change to avenge one of those overtime losses as it travels to Maryland on Saturday to see the Terrapins for a second time early in Big Ten play.
Izzo vowed the next six days of practice will be crazy for the Spartans, who now sit at 12-5 (3-1 Big Ten).
”Every time I think we’re taking a step forward to me I think we take a step back,” Izzo said, “and the performance today was not one that I’m very proud of.”