EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State point guard Tum Tum Nairn stood at the corner of the court pumping his fist as time expired Friday night, another conference win in hand.
The Spartans (10-5, 2-0 Big Ten) held on for a 61-52 win over Northwestern (12-3, 1-1) at the Breslin Center after building a 19-point first-half lead. The Wildcats got as close as four points, but the Spartans sealed a home victory with stingy defense.
Alvin Ellis III led the way with 16 points and 8 rebounds, while freshmen Cassius Winston and Nick Ward added 15 and 11 points, respectively.
WHY: Michigan State won because it played fantastic defense despite its offensive inconsistencies. Northwestern made 2 of 13 shots to finish out the game and hit 35.8 percent from the field overall.
WHAT IT MEANS: It means the Spartans have taken down two of the Big Ten’s hottest teams entering Big Ten play in Minnesota and Northwestern. After a non-conference slate plagued by injuries and subpar play, Michigan State has come out of it better. And freshman star Miles Bridges still hasn’t returned from injury.
WHO STARRED: Cassius Winston. He definitely had his forgettable moments, such as an ill-timed overthrown pass to Matt McQuaid and a travel in the backcourt. But still, he gave Michigan State offense when it needed it most, dishing out 6 assists to go with his 15 points.
WHO STUMBLED: The referees. The officiating wasn’t lopsided by any means, but it was inconsistent. Clear blocking fouls in the lane were ignored for insignificant touches out on the perimeter. When the referees called fouls, they called them in bunches. Both head coaches were left shaking their heads on multiple occasions.
WHO WAS THERE: The Izzone student section found itself largely overtaken by alumni given the holiday break. And when the students return, they’ll have some work to do to keep the energy level up where the alumni had it.
WHO IS NEXT: The Spartans will have five days until their next game, when they host an improved Rutgers team on Wednesday. It will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Final stats. Another strong scoring outing from Alvin Ellis III. pic.twitter.com/qFgeWRkUj3
— Luke Srodulski (@lsrodulski) December 31, 2016