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Michigan State basketball: 3 takeaways from disappointing Northwestern loss

Let’s hope this was an anomaly.

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Michigan State basketball
© David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern continues to have Tom Izzo’s number as Michigan State basketball could not pick up a win on Sunday night.

The Spartans’ five-game winning streak came to a crashing end Sunday night. Michigan State basketball went to Northwestern and suffered its first loss of the new year, 88-74.

This game was tough to watch because we just didn’t look like the same team from the past few games. It’s hard to have any takeaways from a game like this because you know a performance like this is an outlier. But a few things still stood out to me from this tough loss.

Let’s start with the one positive.

1. Tyson Walker is still Tyson Walker

One sign of a superstar is that they play well every single night, even on your team’s worst night. Tyson Walker proved he’s a superstar on Sunday night after another impressive performance.

Tyson did what he does and scored 27 points for the Spartans tonight. He also added three rebounds and three assists as well. All three of these stats are above his season averages.

Walker also accomplished this while still being very efficient from the field. He was 10-for-18 overall and 4-for-7 from beyond the arc, including a blistering 3-for-3 start. Sometimes stars pad their stats in these games but aren’t efficient shooting the ball, but that wasn’t the case with Walker.

So on a night when our team and a lot of individuals struggled, Walker still played very well.

2. Lack of upperclassmen leadership

Rough games are expected from underclassmen from time to time, especially freshmen. If Coen Carr has an off night it’s easier to shrug it off because he’s still getting used to college basketball. You don’t however expect “off” nights from upperclassmen.

I put “off” in quotation marks above because two of the Spartans’ upperclassmen essentially didn’t show up. Malik Hall’s only stats that he accumulated were two turnovers and one foul. That’s right, he had zero points, assists, rebounds, steals, or blocks. That’s honestly impressive to do something like that but for all the wrong reasons.

Jaden Akins is another upperclassman who left a lot to be desired. If you just look at a regular box score, you’ll see he finished with 13 points, four rebounds, and two assists. Not a great night but certainly not a bad one. But if you dig into a more advanced box score, you’ll see his +\- number was -32. This stat simply indicates how your team did when you were on the floor and -32 means that Northwestern outscored MSU by 32 points when Akins was on the floor. That’s not completely his fault, but it’s not a good sign.

I don’t point out these stats to drag Hall or Akins, I think they are both great players. But they both need to be consistently better, and when they have off nights it can’t be this bad.

3. A seven-minute stretch killed MSU

Michigan State basketball lost this game by 14 points. In the seven minutes I’m referring to, Northwestern outscored MSU by 15. So for 33 minutes of game time, the teams were essentially even, but in these seven minutes, Northwestern dominated the Spartans.

This stretch took place at the end of the first half. The score was tied at 26 with 7:13 to play, then Northwestern went on a massive run to take a 46-31 halftime lead.

Basketball is a game of runs. It always has been and it always will be. So Northwestern was bound to have at least a few runs in this game, not the end of the world. But a seven-minute blitz where the Wildcats outscore Michigan State 20-5? That can’t happen.

Tom Izzo and the team need to find a way to stop these runs from turning into massive stretches that lose the Spartans games. I’m sure MSU could’ve done a lot of things differently, but one gripe I’ve always had with Izzo is his lack of timeout usage. During this run, Izzo did not call one timeout until there was less than a minute left in the half. Maybe using a timeout would help stop their run. Izzo is the Hall of Famer, not me, so I’ll stop criticizing him now.

I hope this loss is an anomaly and not the new norm. It can’t be the norm if MSU expects to win its next game as it travels to Illinois. Thursday night is still days away, so hopefully the team will figure out how to fix what went wrong against Northwestern by then.

Lead writer for Spartan Shadows since April 2023, writing over 450 articles. Michigan State basketball, football and recruiting expert. Class of 2019 graduate from Michigan State University specializing in Sports Management. Daily MSU runs a popular X page (@daily_msu) covering all things MSU Sports.

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