EVANSTON, Ill. (AP)—The way Tom Izzo was contorting his face and rubbing his eyes, he looked like he had just lost his seventh straight game.
Clearly, something was bothering Michigan State’s coach.
“You got an hour?” he asked.
Izzo wasn’t pleased with a defense that gave up too many open jumpers and got pushed around a bit too much inside.
But he had to be pleased with Raymar Morgan, who had 22 points and a season-high 13 rebounds to lead the No. 10 Spartans to a 77-66 win over Northwestern on Saturday for their seventh straight victory.
Kalin Lucas came on strong after a rough start, scoring 15 of his 18 points in the second half. Chris Allen scored 16 and provided the spark as the Spartans scored the first 12 points of the second half to turn a one-point deficit into an 11-point lead.
That doused any notion of an upset and sent Michigan State (11-2, 2-0 Big Ten) to its 12th consecutive win over Northwestern (8-4, 0-2). It also gave the Spartans back-to-back double-digit road wins to start conference play after they beat Minnesota 70-58 on Wednesday.
“I should be a lot happier than I felt,” Izzo said. “I’m sure I will when I sit down and watch (video). I also know how good the league is. I also know we’ve got to be getting better every game.”
The second-half burst aside, Izzo saw this as a step back—but at least it wasn’t a knockdown.
Allen’s 3-pointer near the end of the first half cut it to 33-32, and he started the second by burying a jumper and converting another 3 after a dunk by Morgan. Allen finished the run with a driving scoop layup and free throw after Wildcats coach Bill Carmody got called for a technical, making it 44-33 with 15:23 left in the game.
“The first four minutes were real big for us,” said Lucas, who shot just 1-of-7 in the first half. “We played great defense and got some easy shots.”
It was probably the only time Izzo didn’t appear to be in pain.
“If you can talk to the Big Ten office and convince them that we only need to play four-minute games, that would be good,” he said.
But the game didn’t end after that stretch.
Instead, Northwestern’s Craig Moore (16 points) did all he could to keep it close, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the half to make it 51-46. But a put-back by Morgan and jumper by Travis Walton made it 64-52 with seven minutes remaining and ended any lingering suspense.
Morgan delivered one of his best performances of the season, hitting nine of 13 shots while falling two rebounds shy of his career high, and the Spartans had a 47-28 edge on the glass.
“We have guys who are very athletic, jump over the rim,” Morgan said. “It just depends on whether we want to go get it or not. Guys have to be aggressive.”
Michigan State was leading the league with a plus-8.9 rebounding margin entering the game, and Northwestern got out-rebounded by 22 in a four-point loss at Penn State on Wednesday.
“We just got to figure out, ‘Are we not boxing out? Are we boxing out and not scrapping the way we need to get balls on the ground?”’ coach Bill Carmody said.
By adding freshmen like 7-footer Kyle Rowley and 6-11 Lura Mirkovic, along with 6-8 John Shurna and 6-9 Davide Curletti, the Wildcats expect to dish out a few bumps after taking more than their share while going 8-22 overall and 1-17 in the conference last season.
But Michigan State refused to let the Wildcats make a statement at its expense—no matter how hard they tried.
Kevin Coble scored 12 of his 17 points in the first half, hitting two 3s and converting back-to-back baskets late in the half to tie it at 28. That drew a loud “Let’s go ‘Cats” chant from the student section and the cheers intensified when Moore hit a 3-pointer to give Northwestern a three-point lead with just over three minutes remaining.
He added a layup in the closing minute before Allen buried a 3-pointer to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 33-32.
“I think they’re a much, much improved team,” Izzo said. “The score was not indicative of the game. It could have been a lot closer.”