Michigan State star Kalin Lucas responded from his benching the way coach Tom Izzo wanted.
If Northwestern hopes to remain in next week’s AP poll after breaking in for the first time in 40 years, it’s going to need its own big bounce-back performance.
Lucas and the 11th-ranked Spartans open the Big Ten season trying to win their sixth straight in Evanston as they visit the 25th-ranked Wildcats on Saturday.
After Michigan State (10-3, 0-0) suffered a loss at No. 2 Texas before Christmas, Izzo said the Spartans were in need of some improved leadership, and he was looking to Lucas to lead that charge.
Lucas, who had six turnovers in the loss to the Longhorns was benched before Tuesday’s practice, but he responded by scoring 16 points in 29 minutes off the bench in a 87-68 win over Texas-Arlington on Wednesday.
Izzo said he didn’t like the way the benching was portrayed by the media, but was satisfied with the result.
“I wouldn’t change what I did, but I was disappointed,” he said. “I’m almost embarrassed for his family and for him … but on the other side of it, there was some things that we still have to get better at and he’s got to get better at. He’s a valuable, valuable player.”
Lucas, the reigning Big Ten player of the year, averaged 18.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds in two games against Northwestern last season, but this Wildcats team has a lot riding on the meeting as they try to stay in the Top 25.
Northwestern (10-2, 0-1) had its nine-game winning streak snapped after losing 89-83 in overtime at Illinois on Wednesday. It wasn’t the kind of response the Wildcats were looking for after they moved into the Top 25 for the first time since January 1969.
After hitting 11 3-pointers to build a nine-point halftime lead, Northwestern shot 28.9 percent in the second half and needed to rally to force overtime on a tip-in by Luka Mirkovic with 17 seconds to play in regulation.
John Shurna had 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but second-leading scorer Michael Thompson, who is averaging 15.9 points, was held to seven on 2-of-10 shooting.
“In the first half I think (Illinois) was pretty responsive to some of our little drives, dribble penetration, we got some open looks that way,” coach Bill Carmody said. “In the second half I don’t think we were testing them enough to tell you the truth.”
Northwestern matched a season-high with 47 3-point attempts, but made only 16. The Wildcats are among the top 10 in Division I with 335 shots attempted from 3-point range.
“I felt we were settling a little bit for 3s,” Carmody said. “It didn’t seem we probed the defense enough.”
While Northwestern’s stay in the rankings may be short-lived, it would make a very good case for a reprieve with a victory over Michigan State and its deep bench. Led by Durrell Summers and Draymond Green, who each scored 19 points Wednesday, the team is among the top 15 in Division I in points off the bench per game with 31.0.
Michigan State is looking for a measure of revenge after Northwestern ended a 12-game losing streak in the series with a 70-63 upset at East Lansing last season. The Spartans have won their last five games at Northwestern by double digits.
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