Northwestern falls to No. 4 Michigan State

Northwestern held strong, but eventually fell to No. 4 Michigan State on Wednesday.

Up six early in the second half, Michigan State's Branden Dawson pushed a fast-break pass to a wide-open Denzel Valentine. Sanjay Lumpkin closed quickly, elevated, and left Valentine sprawled out on the paint. On the other end, Kale Abrahamson buried a corner three, whipping Welsh-Ryan Arena to season-high noise levels. The Big Ten's bottom feeders wouldn't go down easy against the fourth-ranked team in the country.

Northwestern would stay neck-and-neck with Michigan State until the game's final few minutes, with the Spartans (16-1, 5-0 Big Ten) pulling away, 54-40. The Wildcats (8-10, 1-4) were led by Tre Demps' 12 points, and pitched their second consecutive defensive stand, holding the conference's second-ranked scoring offense to just 38.5 percent shooting.

"It was the best defense I've seen here for quite some time," said Tom Izzo in a postgame press conference. "Give Chris [Collins] credit, he continues to push his guys. I thought they played as hard as anybody we've played. If they continue to do what they're doing...they're going to have a lot of fun around here."

Despite shooting just 31 percent from the floor — including an 18 percent clip combined from Demps and Drew Crawford — Northwestern went to halftime down only four, paced by a plus-three rebound differential and eight points from Jershon Cobb. The Wildcats hauled in eight offensive boards, but went without a second-chance point in the half.

The Cats' transition defense faltered after the break, though Gary Harris and Keith Appling were the only two Spartans to post double-digit points. Northwestern's struggle to assume the scoring was even more obvious: Drew Crawford's sluggish 1-of-8 outing still made him the team's third-highest scorer. The senior hasn't cracked 20 points since December, and has shot less than 30 percent from the floor in four of NU's last six. He turned the ball over four times Wednesday.

"I never thought Drew was disengaged. I thought he was frustrated, though," Collins said. "Michigan State did a good job of rotating bodies on him. He missed some shots he normally hits."

"In basketball, when you make a shot, it leads to another made shot," Crawford added. "I haven't been doing that lately, getting in that rhythm. I'm also not taking great shots."

Michigan State went on a 10-2 run that put it up 13 with five minutes to play, out-rebounding Northwestern by a 6-1 margin. The Wildcats went scoreless in the last four minutes of the night.

"We're on the verge of something good," Crawford said. "The past couple games we've really played our butts off. It's always frustrating to lose, but we're going somewhere."

Sanjay Lumpkin's defensive effort was the lone standout individual performance. The Wildcats travel to Assembly Hall Saturday to take on Indiana.

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