GAME NOTES: The Michigan State Spartans will attempt to avoid an upset this evening as they take on Big Ten Conference foe Northwestern in Evanston.
Michigan State has won three of its last four games to move to 9-4 overall, and the club began league play successfully on Friday with a 71-62 triumph over Minnesota. The four losses to date for Tom Izzo's club have come against UConn, Duke, Syracuse and Texas, four of the nation's most talented teams. The Spartans have played just one true road game to date, a five-point loss to the top-ranked Blue Devils back on December 1st.
Northwestern was also in action on New Year's Eve, but the team didn't share Michigan State's success that night. The Wildcats dropped an 82-69 decision to Purdue, their second loss in the last three outings after beginning the season with eight consecutive wins. They are now 9-2 overall, including a perfect 6-0 at home.
The Spartans won both of their meetings with the Wildcats a year ago to extend their series lead to 79-37 over Northwestern.
Strong defense is key to Michigan State's success, as the team is limiting opponents to 66.2 ppg on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor. The Spartans are generating 75.4 ppg at the offensive end, and there are three double-digit scorers on the roster. Durrell Summers leads the way with his 15.5 ppg, and Kalin Lucas checks in with 14.5 ppg. As for Draymond Green, a truly versatile performer, he provides 12.0 ppg to go along with team highs of 8.7 rpg, 50 assists and 26 steals.
In the nine-point win over Minnesota three nights ago, Summers tallied 19 points to spearhead a balanced attack. Green scored 14, Delvon Roe and Korie Lucious pitched in 11 points apiece, and Lucas managed 10 points and seven assists. MSU finished with 21 assists and only eight turnovers, and after shooting just 25.8 percent from the floor in the first half, the club connected on 61.5 percent over the final 20 minutes.
John Shurna is the go-to guy at the offensive end for Northwestern, as he is pouring in 22.2 ppg on the strength of his staggering 61.8 percent shooting from three-point range. Shurna is also pulling down 5.2 rpg and ranks second on the roster with 36 assists, a collection of numbers that would make him a strong candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year if he continues to perform at such a high level. Michael Thompson is netting 15.1 ppg to go along with 50 assists, and Drew Crawford rounds out a tremendous trio with 14.4 ppg.
The Wildcats are generating 78.2 ppg while allowing 65.4 ppg to foes. All five starters reached double figures in scoring for Northwestern against Purdue on Friday, but a 41-27 rebounding disadvantage and a 23-9 deficit in points from the foul line led to defeat. Thompson scored 18 points in that affair, and Luka Mirkovic added 16 points from his center position. As for Shurna, he was held to 11 points.
Expect a higher output from Shurna tonight than in the Purdue game, but give the edge to the Spartans nonetheless. Michigan State will do just enough to win on the road.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117) -- Evanston, Illinois. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Michigan St. 6-1, Northwestern 6-0. Away Record: Michigan St. 0-1, Northwestern 2-2. Neutral Record: Michigan St. 3-2, Northwestern 1-0. Conference Record: Michigan St. 1-0, Northwestern 0-1. Series Record: Michigan State leads, 79-37.