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01/14/2012 7:54 PM EST
Northwestern upsets No. 6 Michigan State 81-74
NORTHWESTERN 81, MICHIGAN ST 74

By RICK GANO
AP Sports Writer

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) -- Michigan State built its 15-game winning
streak on solid, consistent play and an ability to defend an
array of teams and approaches.



The sixth-ranked Spartans matched up Saturday against a style
they couldn't contain.



Northwestern stars John Shurna and Drew Crawford got their
points and their shots, but what really hurt Michigan State was
the play of backup center Davide Curletti, who made his first
start of the season and second of his career.



Curletti had a season-high 17 points and six rebounds, and his
hustle helped the Wildcats pull of an important victory for
their NCAA resume - an 81-74 victory over the Spartans.



"Curletti was the difference in the game, if you ask me," said
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who fell to 26-4 against the
Wildcats in his career.



"I thought he played extremely well and outplayed our centers
and that's something we've been pretty solid on lately," Izzo
added.



Shurna had 22 points, 13 in the second half, and Crawford had 20
as the Wildcats (12-5, 2-3) rebounded from a tough overtime loss
at Michigan three days ago.



Michigan State (15-3, 4-1) lost for the first time since it was
beaten by Duke at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15.



Izzo was worried about his younger players and how they would
handle Northwestern's Princeton-style offense - with its array
of picks and cuts - as the shot clock was running down.



But he didn't expect the Wildcats to get such a lift from
Curletti.



"It is fun when you play well like that, helping other guys is a
great feeling, especially for us," said Curletti, who also had
four assists. "Our offense is built around each other, making
back door cuts, making back door passes. ... We were barely ever
out of our offense and we were able to really run it to
perfection."



Northwestern shot 54 percent in the second half, finishing right
at 50 against a team that was allowing just 37 percent all
season. Teams had been averaging just 59.6 points against the
Spartans through the first 17 games.



"We didn't lose that game on the offensive end, we lost it on
the defensive end," Izzo said. "We're not allowed to give up 81
points. It's ridiculous."



Keith Appling led the Spartans with 17 points, and Draymond
Green had 14 points and 14 rebounds. Michigan State shot 65
percent in the first half and went cold in the second 20 minutes
against Northwestern's zone.



"The main thing was stopping them in transition because they
have so many fast guards," said Crawford, who has been battling
the flu. "Once we were able to stop them in transition, we're
confident in our zone in the half court and we were kind of able
to slow them down a bit, which really helped us out."



Northwestern fans stormed the court after the victory, perhaps a
pivotal one for the Wildcats as they shoot for the first NCAA
tournament berth in school history. They needed the win badly
after the loss at Michigan and one in their previous game at
home to Illinois.



Crawford hit a jumper and then made a 3-pointer as Northwestern
extended its lead to six points 5 minutes into the second half -
with the help of five straight missed shots by the Spartans.



Even after playing good defense, the Spartans had trouble
controlling Northwestern.



Shurna put up a wild shot to beat the shot clock but teammate
Reggie Hearn sailed through the lane and followed it up. Then
Curletti broke for the basket on a back door play and dunked to
give the Wildcats a seven-point lead with just over 12 minutes
left.



After such a torrid shooting first half, the Spartans missed 12
of their first 15 field goal attempts in the second. Shurna
broke free for a layup and minutes later had a dunk as
Northwestern increased the lead to 12 with 8:32 left.



State rallied with a 7-0 run started by Travis Trice's 3-pointer
and cut the lead to 69-64 with 5:32 left. But Dave Sobolewski
hit two free throws and Shurna made another 3-pointer from the
top of the key and the lead was back to 10.



Michigan State made nine of its first 10 shots, including 4 of 5
from 3-point range. Green hit three straight early 3-pointers
and the Spartans led by as many as nine, having little trouble
with Northwestern's defense early.



But the second half was a turnaround. The Spartans shot 34.4
percent (11 for 32) in the final 20 minutes and were only 4 for
11 on 3-pointers.



Izzo, still two wins shy of his 400th career victory, looked
back at the first half when the Spartans had several leads and a
couple of missed opportunities, and allowed Northwestern to
wrestle rebounds away and score. On one of them, Curletti
converted a three-point play.



"Probably the biggest thing was hustle plays. We had rebounds
they took from us and scored three different times. ... Each
time we had a six- or seven-point lead and they took it and laid
it up. One time they made a three-point play. That became the
difference in the game."

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