Northwestern Struggles Against Big Ten Elite Continue

Northwestern’s losing streak extended to four games Thursday night with a 76-45 loss to the Michigan State Spartans. The loss comes in the midst of the third in a four game stretch against ranked opponents, only the 4th time in school history this has happened and the first since the 1989-90 season.

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Denzel Valentine led the way for the Spartans, with 19 points on 7-11 FG and 5-7 3PT and Matt McQuaid added 17 points on 5-8 from beyond the arc. For the game, Michigan State shot 51% from the field and a stunning 62% from three, hitting nearly as many three pointers, 16, as Northwestern had total made field goals with 17.

Bryant McIntosh, who scored 14 points, led the way for Northwestern and Aaron Falzon added 11 in the loss. Tre Demps scored a season-low four points on 2-14 from the field including 0-7 from beyond the arc and Alex Olah (who Chris Collins said is still playing through that broken foot) did not make a field goal coming off his great effort against Indiana.

The shooting struggles that have plagued Northwestern in conference play continued, as they shot 21% from the field and 17% from long range, a far fall from the team we saw early this season.

“I feel badly for our guys because our effort level was tremendous”, Collins said. “This game had nothing to do with effort. It had nothing to do with lack of preparation, one team playing harder than another team, it really didn’t. It was one team shot the crap out of it and one team couldn’t make anything.”

Northwestern’s shooting struggles early were offset by four early Michigan State turnovers, which kept the game close, but the Wildcats didn’t make their first field goal until almost six minutes into the game when Demps converted a floater.

Every time the Wildcats would make an attempt at getting back into the game, Valentine would answer, scoring 14 of his game-high 19 points in the first half.

But Northwestern’s struggles were not just limited to the perimeter. They were out-rebounded 42-33 and managed only nine points on one field goal from their bigs Olah and Dererk Pardon. They struggled to get anything going in the paint against the Spartans’ interior length, led by Deyonta Davis who had six blocked shots and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Maybe it is just a mid-season slump and maybe it is tightening up against elite teams, but the shooting struggles are real. During this four-game skid, Northwestern is shooting 35% from the field, and 20% from three (17-85). And for a team that relies heavily on the outside shot, this is a trend that needs to get corrected before the Wildcats end up in a 10 game slide like the one they found themselves in last season.

“It’s frustrating for all of us”, said Collins. “Right now our guys have lost confidence with their shooting and we’ve got to get it back.”

It certainly won’t be easy, as this tough stretch against ranked opponents continues on Sunday when they hit the road to face Iowa.