Though a rout at Northwestern triggered what has turned into the best Big Ten start in school history, Michigan State will be certain not to take the rematch lightly.
The fifth-ranked Spartans also were in the top 10 when they had a 28-game home winning streak snapped by the Wildcats a year ago, a loss they look to avenge Saturday night while extending their current run at the Breslin Center to 18 straight victories.
Northwestern’s first Top 25 appearance in 40 years came to an end two days after Michigan State (18-3, 8-0) shot 57.4 percent to win 91-70 in Evanston on Jan. 2. That Big Ten opener remains the most lopsided win coach Tom Izzo’s team has had in conference play, having since survived some close calls to stay perfect.
The Spartans began 7-0 in the Big Ten in 1978 during Magic Johnson’s freshman season, but topped that start Tuesday in Ann Arbor with its second straight frantic finish.
Kalin Lucas scored 22 points and hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 1:27 left last Saturday in Minnesota, capping a 13-point comeback in a 65-64 victory. Three days later, the junior guard made a go-ahead jumper with 3.5 seconds left against Michigan to seal a 57-56 win.
“We went to our go-to guy,” Izzo said of the reigning Big Ten player of the year. “If anyone wonders why I expect a lot of out of him, it shouldn’t take you long to figure out why.”
Lucas had 21 points against Northwestern (14-6, 3-5) earlier this month, and he scored 20 on 7-of-12 shooting when the Wildcats visited East Lansing on Jan. 21, 2009. His teammates, though, shot 12 of 35 (34.2 percent) and Northwestern shocked the then-No. 7 Spartans 70-63, spoiling the nation’s third-longest home winning streak and giving the Wildcats their first road victory over a top-10 team since 1953.
Michigan State had been 15-0 at home against Northwestern and had won 12 straight overall in the series.
The now-injured Kevin Coble scored 31 points in the Wildcats’ big upset, but the Spartans also were weakened in that game with Raymar Morgan being limited to 18 scoreless minutes due to flu-like symptoms.
Morgan had 17 points in Evanston earlier this month, and he’s averaged 16.8 points on 77.8 percent shooting over Michigan State’s last four games. He had 20 points and shot 8 of 9 at Michigan.
Northwestern is off to a mediocre start in Big Ten play following some strong non-conference wins, but another victory in East Lansing would do wonders for its hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time.
The Wildcats lost their latest chance to pick up a solid road win Tuesday at Minnesota. John Shurna had 19 points and helped Northwestern rally from an eight-point halftime deficit to take a 49-48 lead with 5:08 left, but Minnesota took over down the stretch to win 65-61.
“We have to finish the game after going up with four minutes left,” coach Bill Carmody said.
Shurna has averaged 20.0 points over his last three games, and was the only Wildcat to get anything going against the Spartans on Jan. 2, tying a career high with 29 points.
Northwestern’s chances Saturday, though, could depend on Michael Thompson, who had 20 points to help Coble lead the upset in East Lansing last season.
The Wildcats are 11-2 when Thompson scores at least 10 points this season. He had eight on 2-of-8 shooting against Michigan State in Evanston.