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Michigan State rolls over Northwestern

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- Michigan State is having a good time again as the college basketball season moves through tourney time.

The third-seeded Spartans rolled into the Big Ten tournament semifinals with a 67-51 victory over 11th seed Northwestern on Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

"It was good being out there having fun," said Michigan State guard Gary Harris, who scored 13 points. "We placed an emphasis on it in practice week and to improve our defense and our communication. We played with a lot of energy on defense and that carried over to our offensive end.

"We were playing like we were earlier in the season."

The Spartans (24-7) trailed only briefly in the contest and led by as many as 24 points midway through the second half as they improved to 3-1 in opening games as a third seed.

"Our overall defense until the last seven minutes was exceptional," said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. "We got some breaks because of it, we got it out and considering we did all that without (center) Adreian (Payne), they did a good job.

Payne, who typically averages 16.1 points per game, was hampered by four fouls and was limited to just five points.

No. 22 Michigan State, a three-time Big Ten tournament champion, faces No. 12 Wisconsin in Saturday's second semifinal. The teams shared second place in the regular season. Top seed Michigan meets No. 5 Ohio State in the other semifinal.

Guard Drew Crawford scored a game-high 21 points as Northwestern (14-19) closed the gap to 13 late in the game on three straight 3-pointers. Center Alex Olah added 10 for the Wildcats.

"I thought that their speed and their intensity -- knowing that we had played such a hard-fought game last night -- I thought they did exactly what they needed to by coming out with amazing energy," said Northwestern coach Chris Collins. "We emptied the tank last night against Iowa ... but we fought to the end."

Michigan State guard Branden Dawson had a team-high 16 points.

The Spartans' win was the third straight this season. Michigan State beat Northwestern in two regular-season meetings.

The Spartans opened the season ranked No. 2 in the nation and held the No. 1 spot for three straight weeks for the first time in school history. They came into the tournament with three losses in their last four games.

Northwestern grabbed a quick 5-2 lead and the score was tied at 10 after a jumper by guard Tre Demps with 12:35 left in the first half. But Michigan State's slow start ended right there as it launched a 30-12 surge that built a 40-22 lead by halftime.

Dawson collected eight of his first half-leading 11 points during the run. Demps paced Northwestern with seven first-half points.

Friday's game was the finale for Crawford, who came back from an injury-plagued 2013-14 for a fifth season as Collins started his first.

"It's a tough feeling just because of all the love that's in this program," he said. "I can say that I walked off happy that I gave my all to this program."

The Spartans received a first-round bye after their third-place finish in the regular season. The Wildcats reached the quarterfinals with a 67-62 win over No. 6 seed Iowa in the first round on Thursday night.

NOTES: Northwestern's quarterfinals appearance is its first since 2011, when the Wildcats topped Minnesota 75-65. ... The Wildcats' win over Iowa was the first by a No. 11 seed since Illinois in 1999. ... G/F Drew Crawford closed his Northwestern career as the program's all-time No. 2 scorer with 1,910 points, passing Billy McKinney (1974-79). John Shurna is the career leader with 2,038 points. ... Crawford also leads the Wildcats at 15.5 points per game and is the Big Ten's current active scoring leader. ... Northwestern is 0-3 in three previous Big Ten tournament meetings with Michigan State and 0-2 in 2014 regular-season matchups. ... The Wildcats were unbeaten in Indiana this season with victories at Purdue and Indiana. ... The Spartans are the No. 3 seed for the second straight season, losing in last year's quarterfinals. Michigan State has four Big Ten tournament titles, the last in 2012. ... Indiana natives G/F Branden Dawson and G Gary Harris love to come back home. Harris has averaged 20 points in four games in Indiana and Dawson averages 12.6 points and six rebounds. ... Harris was an All-Big Ten first-team and all-defensive team selection. Spartans G Denzel Valentine received the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. ... Spartans F Adreian Payne has averaged 15.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in nine games (eight starts) since missing seven games with a right foot sprain. ... Michigan State now leads the series 85-38 after Friday's win.

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