Northwestern, Davide Curletti stun No. 6 Michigan State

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Northwestern forward Drew Crawford, right, blocks the shot of Michigan State guard Austin Thornton during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Jan 14, 2012 in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern won 81-74. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)

Is this going to be the game that gets Northwestern into the NCAA tournament for the first time?

It might be.

In a stunning display punctuated by students and fans storming the court, the Wildcats upset No. 6 Michigan State 81-74 on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The result ended the Spartans’ 15-game winning streak and came after NU had lost heartbreakers Jan. 4 against Illinois and Wednesday against Michigan.

And for those calling for Wildcats coach Bill Carmody’s job, it was his last-minute move of starting Davide Curletti at center in place of Luka Mirkovic that changed everything. The 6-9 senior scored 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting, including a three-pointer, and grabbed six rebounds in a career-high 36 minutes.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Carmody’s move was nothing short of brillant.

‘‘Curletti was the difference in this game, if you ask me,” Izzo said. ‘‘He was a big difference in this game, and it was a brillant move by Bill to start him.”

It was the second consecutive game in which Carmody replaced Mirkovic in the starting lineup at the last minute. Guard Alex Marcotullio started for Mirkovic against Michigan, with John Shurna shifting from forward to center.

‘‘I’ve been coming off the bench my whole career, but it doesn’t matter to me if I start,” Curletti said. ‘‘Against Michigan, we went small with John [at center]. But depending on what team we play, John would be a good option or I will or maybe Luka.”

NU (12-5, 2-3 Big Ten) won despite not being healthy. Swingman Drew Crawford started despite a stomach virus that had him hooked up to an IV on Friday and Saturday morning. He scored 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-5 from three-point range.

Marcotullio played only the first half before leaving the game. Carmody said trainers told him about a minute before the second half started that Marcotullio couldn’t play. Carmody said the injury wasn’t Marcotullio’s left big toe, which has hampered him all season, but that he was ‘‘conked” on the head in the first half.

Before he left, though, Marco-tullio sparked the Wildcats by doing what he does best: making three-pointers. He made a three-pointer with 1:48 left in the first half to tie the score at 33, then made another 27 seconds later to give NU a 36-34 lead.

And to put an exclamation point on the first half, Shurna (22 points) sank a three-pointer as he was falling down with three seconds left. It gave the Wildcats a 39-37 lead at the break.

Reggie Hearn added 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting for NU. The Spartans (15-3, 4-1) were led by Keith Appling’s 17 points and Draymond Green’s 14 points and 14 rebounds.

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