MSU back in tie for Big 10 lead after upsets

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Michigan State should feel good about where it stands thanks to Winston's leadership.

Number-one Michigan State and number-21 Michigan return to the court this weekend.

The Buckeyes were crunched by Penn State 79-56 while Purdue stumbled again as they lost at Wisconsin 57-53.

While beating Northwestern isn't some sort of monumental achievement this season, Michigan State didn't have a huge comeback win this season. Northwestern has not beaten Michigan State since an 81-74 home win on January 19, 2012, losing its last eight attempts. That was until the Spartans completed the biggest comeback in Big Ten history.

"The biggest concern for me is they're a better team than they've played", Izzo said after his team's practice on Thursday.

But he's also seen flashes of what Northwestern reaching that potential, like when it beat MI at home earlier this month. His team nevertheless comfortably handled that contest, topping NU 61-52 in East Lansing thanks to big nights from guard Cassius Winston and center Nick Ward - two players who remain important contributors beyond Bridges. He finished with eight points, and fellow star Jackson got 11, zero rebounds and zero blocks.

Law scored 18 first-half points and made five of the Wildcats' eight 3-pointers. Skelly, who had not finished a game in double-digits since January 17 against Ohio State, ended the first half with 11. They allowed Northwestern (15-13, 6-9) to shoot 60 percent in the first half, including 8-of-13 on 3-pointers, and their execution against the Wildcats' matchup zone was nearly freakish in its ineffectiveness. Senior guard Bryant McIntosh paces the Wildcats' offense with 12.1 points per game and a team-leading 5.2 assists per game.

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The No. 2 Spartans (26-3, 14-2) earned every bit of that deficit, and the one that stood at halftime: 49-27.

"Honestly, when we were in the locker room, we were ready", Winston said. "We struggled with our ball-screen coverages".

Winston drained his fourth 3-pointer of the half with 4:53 to play, then made two free throws with 25.8 seconds left.

While Ohio State holds a tiebreaker over the Spartans by virtue of the Buckeyes' 80-64 victory at then top-ranked Michigan State on January 7, the tiebreaker will determine the seeding for the conference tournament. This one, I really don't. MSU shot 54 percent from the floor in the second half after going 8-of-24 before halftime.

While Izzo is honest about Northwestern playing below its potential this season, he also says the same thing about his team. The same team that shot 60 percent in the first half, scored just four points midway through the second half. They proceeded to score exactly 11 points in the second half, which would be not a lot of points in a football second half and is definitely not enough in basketball.

The Cats (15-12, 6-8) are coming off a nightmarish two-game stretch: they were dominated by a 6-9 Maryland team in Big Ten play last Saturday, then collapsed down the stretch in a humiliating defeat against 3-12 Rutgers on Tuesday.

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