Michigan State had the best start in school history derailed in its last outing. Suffering back-to-back defeats isn’t likely with reeling Northwestern coming to town.
The 11th-ranked Spartans look to get back on track Saturday when they host the Big 10 rival Wildcats, who are still looking for their first conference victory.
Michigan State (19-3, 7-2) had won 19 of its first 21 games for the first time ever before falling 85-76 at Penn State last Saturday, allowing its most points in a conference game since losing 99-96 in overtime against Purdue on March 1, 1998.
“(Penn State coach Ed DeChellis) made us look like a poor defensive team, (when) we have been a good defensive team 90 percent of this year,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who’s one victory shy of his ninth 20-win season in 11 years. “He made us look like a poor offensive team, and I think we have a pretty decent offensive team.”
Raymar Morgan and Drew Neitzel, Michigan State’s two leading scorers, were just 4-for-11 and 2-for-10 from the field, respectively. Combined, they’re shooting 49.3 percent in the Spartans’ seven conference wins, but just 31.9 percent (15-for-47) in their two Big 10 losses.
Neitzel is 6-for-22 from the field, including 1-for-11 from 3-point range, in his last two games. When asked if something was wrong with the senior guard, Izzo said Neitzel was not injured or sick before adding, “I don’t blame you for asking that question.”
Neitzel had one of his best games of the season in Michigan State’s 78-62 win over Northwestern (7-13, 0-9) on Jan. 24, scoring 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting with six 3-pointers.
The Wildcats have three more Big 10 losses since then to fall to 0-9 in conference play for the first time since the 2000-01 season, when they dropped their first 10 league games. Since the beginning of conference play last season, Northwestern is 2-23 against the Big 10.
The Wildcats shot 52.8 percent from the field - a Big 10 season high - but gave up a conference-high point total in their 92-72 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday night.
“I don’t think we gave up,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “I just think that we couldn’t stop them.”
The Wildcats have had just as much trouble stopping the Spartans, who have won 10 straight games in the series, with all but one coming by at least 10 points.
Northwestern’s last win in the series was a 61-49 home victory on Feb. 6, 2002. The Wildcats have dropped 20 straight in East Lansing since their 76-69 win there in 1984. They’re just 7-43 all-time on the road against Michigan State, including an 0-14 mark at the Breslin Center, which opened in 1989.
The Spartans will try to improve to 14-0 at home for the second consecutive season. It’s been more than a year since they lost at the Breslin Center, where they’ve won 17 straight since a 63-54 defeat against then-No. 4 Ohio State on Feb. 3, 2007.