No. 2 Michigan State rallies back from down 27 for wild win at Northwestern

Michigan State forward Nick Ward, left, and Northwestern guard Scottie Lindsey battle for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Go ahead and call it a comeback. Or a choke. Or a team-defining win or a program-altering loss. They all apply to what Michigan State did to Northwestern on Saturday at Allstate Arena.

At halftime it looked like the Wildcats were well on their way to notching their first victory over a No. 2 team since 1977. That’s what’s supposed to happen when you lead 49-27 at the break in a home game. Especially a Big Ten home game.

With 18 minutes left to play, ESPN’s win probability gave Northwestern a 96 percent chance of pulling off the upset. That was before Michigan State rattled off a 26-4 run, before Northwestern missed 15 straight field goals and before a largely pro-Spartans crowd helped suck all the energy out of the Wildcats and heaped it on MSU.

Which is how you go from a 27-point deficit in the first half to a final score that looks like this: Michigan State 65, Northwestern 60.

Call it stunning. Call it sickening. Both apply.

Previously, Michigan State’s largest comeback was a 23-point turnaround against Minnesota in 2004. Saturday’s miracle equals the largest comeback in the last decade. Period.

After allowing Northwestern to knock down 60 percent of their field goals in the first half, the Spartan’s conceded next to nothing in final frame. They gave up 11 total second-half points to finish the game on a 49-17 run. That’s even more wild when you consider MSU only received six points from its bench all game.

Instead, Cassius Winston nearly notched a triple double with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson Jr. combined for 26 points. Even with Northwestern down guard Bryant McIntosh, who averages 12 points per game, it seemed impossible to think the Spartans could make a run like this.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo even quipped that when his team went down 27 it was time to start the bus.

So what changed in the second half?

“We started guarding,”  Izzo said on Fox Sports after the game. “That was a big deal. I’ve got a feeling it’s the greatest comeback in Michigan State history.”

Izzo barely stopped short of flat out apologizing to NU coach Chris Collins for the way the game played out.

“I feel for [the Wildcats],” Izzo kept repeating. “They outplayed us and deserved to win.”

It’s a quick one hour flight from Allstate Arena to East Lansing, Michigan. If the Spartans hurry, they just might be able to catch the tail end of what’s sure to be a celebration on a stunned campus.

And maybe by then they’ll have a better idea of just what to call one of the wildest comebacks in college basketball history.

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Blake Schuster is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!