EVANSTON, Ill. (AP)—Another upset? Forget it.
Raymar Morgan scored 23 points, Drew Neitzel added 20, and No. 10 Michigan State delivered one of its best shooting performances of the season in a 78-62 victory over Northwestern on Thursday night.
The Spartans (17-2, 5-1 Big Ten) were a season-best 11-of-18 from 3-point range and were 29-for-48 from the field overall in winning for the 14th time in 15 games.
Neitzel led the barrage from the outside, going 6-of-10 on 3-pointers, and freshman Chris Allen was 4-of-5 from long range while tying his season high with 17 points.
Morgan hit nine of 11 shots and grabbed eight rebounds as Michigan State won its third straight since a 43-36 loss at Iowa. There were no surprises this time. Just a shooting clinic.
“I think we learned our lesson,” Neitzel said. “We realize that we can get beat on any given night.”
Not this one, though.
And the Spartans’ next four games are against teams at or near the bottom of the conference—Michigan, Illinois, Penn State and Northwestern again.
Craig Moore did all he could to keep Northwestern in this one, going 7-of-14 from 3-point range and finishing with 28 points, while Kevin Coble scored 17 points. But the Wildcats (6-10, 0-6) were no match for Michigan State.
“They’re well-drilled, they’re strong, they’re athletic,” Moore said.
And they rarely missed.
“I think it’s contagious when one guy, two guys, make their shots,” Neitzel said. “The rest of the guys get in their comfort zone. We had good fan support, so we fed off that. It was fun playing out there tonight.”
The Spartans picked apart a team that ranks among the Big Ten’s worst defensively, going 8-of-9 from 3-point range in the first half while building a 41-31 lead. They then scored the first 12 points of the second half, with Neitzel’s 3-pointer making it 53-31.
Moore answered with three straight 3-pointers to pull Northwestern within 13, but a basket by Goran Suton and an alley-oop dunk by Morgan ended that threat.
But Michigan State did most of its damage from the corners against a 1-3-1 zone, whipping the ball around and getting open looks.
“I just have to look (at the video) and see those open shots and (figure out) what we can do to improve on that,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “They were prepared for us, and I thought their defense was very good.”
And they had no trouble finding their rhythm.
“We knew we were going to get some open shots against that 1-3-1 zone if we could swing the ball from side to side and not turn it over,” Neitzel said. “We started out making some shots and just had that momentum, and just played off that for the rest of the game.”
Neitzel, who scored 17 points in the second half of Sunday’s 78-73 win at Minnesota, hit two 3-pointers as the Spartans grabbed a 15-5 lead over the first 4:20. Morgan scored seven points during that stretch, but Michigan State was just getting started.
Allen hit two 3-pointers and Neitzel added one as the Spartans went on an 11-0 run midway through the first half, boosting their lead to 28-11. Another 3 by Allen and two free throws by Morgan made it 36-15 with 5:17 left in the half, before Northwestern scored 13 straight points.
“We still have room for improvement, but I think we’re getting better each day,” Morgan said. “Guys are getting more comfortable with each other.”
Even so, there were still some sloppy stretches that allowed Northwestern to get back into it. Michigan State answered each time, though.
“It’s just a lack of focus,” Morgan said. “We just underestimated them a bit in some of those stretches, and Moore did a great job.”