CHICAGO (AP) — Drew Neitzel scored 20 points and Travis Walton hit two free throws with 10.4 seconds left to lead Michigan State to 62-57 victory over Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.
The Spartans' Goran Suton shot a long airball with about 11 seconds left. Northwestern's Jeremy Nash grabbed the rebound and threw an outlet pass to Craig Moore, who was not looking. The ball sailed out of bounds, erasing the Wildcats' chance to tie it with a 3-pointer.
Walton then hit both free throws with 10.4 seconds left to seal the win and set up a matchup with No. 3 Wisconsin, a team the Spartans split two close games with in the regular season.
Neitzel hit his first five 3-pointers and was 5-of-7 overall from the outside. Raymar Morgan added 15 points for the Spartans (22-10).
Kevin Coble and Moore scored 15 apiece for Northwestern (13-18).
Michigan State saw a 16-point first-half lead dwindle to four midway through the second half, but built it back up to 10 before that final round of drama.
Moore found an open Tim Doyle underneath for a basket, and Doyle threw a no-look pass to Vince Scott for a layup that pulled Northwestern within 47-43 with 8:36 remaining. Neitzel's fifth 3-pointer made it 52-45 with 6:55 left, and Suton's three-point play boosted the lead to 10 with 3:36 left.
Moore shot the Wildcats back into it, though.
He hit a 3-pointer with 1:03 left to make it 59-54 and another with 47.5 seconds remaining to pull Northwestern within 60-57, but the Spartans hung on.
It was a fitting performance, given how the final 10 games of the regular season went.
Michigan State lost four straight and won four in a row before dropping the final two at Michigan and Wisconsin. It added up to the lowest seed — seventh — in the conference tournament for a program that won Big Ten titles in 1999 and 2000.
A loss Thursday might have dashed Michigan State's hopes for its 10th straight NCAA berth, and the Spartans did their best early on to make sure that didn't happen.
The league-leader with 99 3-pointers during the regular season, Neitzel hit four as the Wildcats' built a 28-12 lead.
Northwestern used the long ball to get back into it late in the half, hitting three 3-pointers in the final 4:17 to pull within 32-23. And Coble made it a six-point game when he hit from the outside just over a minute into the second.