In arguably their greatest win in the last 20 years, Northwestern basketball defeated #7 Michigan State in East Lansing 70-63. The win, the first time the ‘Cats won at Michigan State since 1984, was Northwestern’s second in a row over a ranked opponent and improves the team’s record to 10-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten.
The upset was made possible by the Jordanesque performance of forward Kevin Coble, a Weinberg junior. Coble finished with 31 points, several due to improbable circus shots that kept the momentum in Northwestern’s favor.
While the night belonged to Coble, guard Michael “Juice” Thompson, a Weinberg sophomore, also finished in double figures with 20 points. He made four 3-pointers, including two that came from well behind the arc as the shot clock was expiring. Just as important, Thompson made all four of his free throws in the final minute. His free throw with 15 seconds to play pushed the Northwestern lead to seven and all but guaranteed that the Wildcats would leave the Breslin Center victorious.
Apart from the heroics of Coble and Thompson, the key to victory was Northwestern’s aggressive 1-3-1 defense. Michigan State, which falls to 15-3 overall and 5-1 in conference play, got 20 points from Kalin Lucas, but overall was unable to generate much offensive rhythm. The ‘Cats forced the Spartans into committing 18 turnovers and held them to a season-low 63 points.
Initially, the game looked like it might shape up to be a mirror image of the first meeting between the two, when Northwestern led by one point entering the half but was outscored to 45-33 in the second half. On Wednesday night, Northwestern trailed by one point heading into the locker rooms. But unlike the home game, the Wildcats’ stringent defense kept the Spartans from going on a game-controlling run to start the second-half. Instead, Northwestern hung around and with each second that ticked off the clock and with each jaw-dropping Coble bank shot, Northwestern’s confidence grew while Michigan State grew increasingly frustrated and frantic. The “Izzone,” Michigan State’s student section, suddenly became replete with worried faces and students putting their backward caps on top of their heads in disbelief.