2011 Michigan State Basketball
Michigan State Spartans vs Northwestern Wildcats Basketball Recap
Michigan State 71, Northwestern 67 (OT)
It’s an old refrain, but it still very much applies to Coach Bill Carmody’s group of plucky, persistent, eager, earnest and eternally hapless squad: The Wildcats in purple are the team that has perpetuated the use of the expression “almost doesn’t count.” Indeed, in yet another season, a Northwestern basketball bunch spent an afternoon warring on even terms with a far more credentialed opponent, only to squander positions of advantage with the clockwork regularity that’s become such an ingrained fact of life in Evanston, Illinois.
The setup was a familiar one this past Saturday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan: Northwestern, leading 59-58 inside the final 30 seconds of regulation time against the Michigan State Spartans, had last year’s Final Four team from the Big Ten on the ropes. If center Luke Mirkovic could have hit each of the two foul shots he was about to attempt, Sparty and Coach Tom Izzo would have been in big trouble just four days after being highly fortunate to escape the clutches of the Wisconsin Badgers. Michigan State had trailed Wisconsin by a 53-44 margin with just 2:45 left last Tuesday night, but somehow, the Spartans reeled off nine straight points, forced overtime, and won in the extra period. MSU watchers expected a better and more consistent performance from Izzo’s outfit, but here the Spartans were, on the brink of being beaten by Northwestern at home for the second time in three seasons. The possibility of this upset was staggering, and it would have given the Carmody Cats their biggest scalp of 2011, hands down. Once again, NU was oh-so-close to the kind of breakthrough moment that could have transformed the Cats’ season. Mirkovic, an erratic center but a man capable of greatness in brief flourishes, needed to put down a pair of foul shots; with a three-point lead, Northwestern would have been in position to foul and turn the final seconds into an extended foul-shooting contest. Given that MSU, with under 30 seconds left, was running out of time, two Mirkovic makes would have put three nails in the Spartans’ coffin. All that remained for Mirkovic was to do his job.
Mirkovic missed one of two free throws, and when Michigan State’s Draymond Green powered to the basket at the other end and got fouled with 10.9 seconds left, he didn’t have to miss the second shot and hope for a rebound. Green was able to make two shots to tie the game and send it into overtime. Once in overtime, Northwestern actually started brightly, just as it had done in regulation time. NU carved out a 65-62 lead, but a terrible pass by Drew Crawford was intercepted by Green and turned into a breakaway dunk that immediately brought Sparty within one point at 65-64 with 2:47 left in the bonus panel. The momentum from that play carried MSU to the finish line. NU scored just two more points the rest of the way, while MSU guard Keith Appling – who hit 6 of 11 shots on the day – nailed a dagger of a three to give Sparty a four-point lead in the final minute.
Northwestern fell short. Sparty survived.
Sounds like a typical season of hoops in the Big Ten, doesn’t it?
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