INDIANAPOLIS — Imagine if David faced Goliath for a second time.
That’s what Northwestern stared down Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament when it played Michigan State, a team that coach Chris Collins has said is the most talented team in the country and the “standard of excellence” in the conference.
After expending nearly all their energy in Thursday’s victory against Iowa, the Wildcats fell to the Spartans 67-51 in a game that was never in doubt.
Northwestern has never won a quarterfinal game in the Big Ten tournament.
“We found some fighters, and that’s what I like,” Collins said. “Even until the final whistle tonight [we fought], we were down 20-something points. Our guys were dead. It was hard for me to talk to them they were gasping for air so much.”
For a second consecutive day, Northwestern brought its tiny slingshot of a six-man rotation. The Spartans played nine players.
Michigan State played seven players double-digit minutes and showed no mercy in using that to their advantage. The Spartans pushed the ball up the floor on nearly every possession. Even in cases when they intended to set up their half-court offense, they pushed it just to make Northwestern sprint back and tire.
Tre Demps and Drew Crawford combined to play all but one minute of Northwestern’s two Big Ten tournament games.
In that lone minute Friday, Collins pulled Crawford so he could get a standing ovation after playing his last game for Northwestern. Crawford led the Wildcats with 21 points and finished his career with 1,920, becoming the second-leading scorer in school history during this loss.
“It’s a tough feeling just because all the love there is in this program,” Crawford said. “I care about Coach Collins so much, every single one of my teammates.”