No. 14 Michigan St. 69, Northwestern 58
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP)—Maurice Ager’s shots always fall against Northwestern, and No. 14 Michigan State needed his clutch 3-pointer Wednesday night to hold on for a 69-58 victory.
Ager’s 3-pointer with 3:33 left took the claw out of a Northwestern rally that had seen the Wildcats cut an 18-point deficit to five.
“It seems like I get open more open looks, it’s hard to explain,” said Ager, who entered Wednesday night averaging 15.6 points on 69 percent shooting against the Wildcats in five games.
He kept it up at Welsh-Ryan Arena, going 7-of-9 from the field, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers, and finished with 20 points. No shot was bigger than his 3-pointer from the left side of the key that gave the Spartans an eight-point lead and the breathing room they needed.
“It was an inside-outside pass and I just hit it,” Ager said. “They had a lot of momentum on their side. That hurt them a little.”
Alan Anderson led Michigan State (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten) with 22 points, hitting six straight free throws over the final 1:24 to seal the win.
Vedran Vukusic led Northwestern with 17 points and went over 1,000 for his career.
Rebounding from an overtime loss at Indiana, Michigan State won for the seventh time in eight games and beat Northwestern for the 33rd time in the last 35 meetings.
Northwestern coach Bill Carmody got his second technical foul with 35 seconds left in the opening half and was ejected, missing his team’s rally that fell short.
“Just normal stuff that coaches do with refs. I wasn’t happy with the way it was going,” Carmody said. “That’s all. That wasn’t the difference. … We just got behind by too much.”
Northwestern (14-14, 6-9) must win its finale at Indiana on Saturday to secure a winning season and keep hopes for an NIT bid alive.
Michigan State plays a home finale against Penn State before the Big Ten tournament next week in Chicago.
“I think we’re ready to move on to the Big Ten tournament. We need to take care of business on Saturday,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who was so upset with his team’s 11 second-half turnovers he held a meeting after the game.
“We didn’t do a good job the second half. We were out of synch. We’re going to have to work on that and getting some of our guys out of slumps.”
Kelvin Torbert made one of two free throws after Carmody’s second technical, which was assessed for comments the coach apparently made during a timeout. The Spartans maintained possession and Torbert got inside for a layup with 5 seconds remaining in the half to put State ahead 37-22.
The Wildcats scrapped on defense and cut it to 57-51 on T.J. Parker’s 3-pointer with 6:12 left that capped a 12-1 run.
“After Coach got kicked out, we were in the locker room and it was like we owe this one to him,” said Northwestern’s Mohamed Hachad, who had 10 points and five steals.
“We started to play harder,” Vukusic said. “We came back but we didn’t have enough energy.”
After a Northwestern turnover on a possession that could have gotten the Wildcats within four, Anderson drove for a basket and Paul Davis hit a free throw that made it 60-51 with 4:50 left.
But Vukusic hit a basket and then got two more points on a goaltending call and it was 60-55 with 4 minutes left.
Then Ager stepped up and hit a 3-pointer to make it an eight-point lead.
Carmody picked up his first technical with 7:56 left and Shannon Brown’s free throw capped a seven-point spurt that gave the Spartans a 29-12 lead.
Northwestern missed 10 of its 21 free throw attempts and was only 3-for-16 from 3-point range. Davis had 12 rebounds as the Spartans had a 37-25 advantage on the boards.