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Neitzel ignites improved effort for Michigan State

Feb 10, 2008 - 5:37 AM EAST LANSING, Michigan (Ticker) -- Drew Neitzel used a dominant stretch to help turn around the fortunes of both his team and himself.

Neitzel scored 13 of his 21 points in the first half as 10th-ranked Michigan State rebounded from a rough road loss with a 70-55 victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten Conference on Saturday.

Despite once again being one of the top teams in the conference, the Spartans (20-3, 8-2 Big Ten) have had their subpar moments. One of those bad spots came last Saturday, when they were outplayed by a struggling Penn State en route to an 85-76 road loss.

"It was a tough week for us as far as approaching things; getting through the tough loss and we watched the film," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I give them a lot of credit. I think that a 15-point win is sometimes like a 25-point win against some teams, but we struggled defensively at times and I would have guessed that they shot 50 percent and when I saw they shot 38 percent, I was amazed."

"It's hard playing Northwestern," Neitzel said. "Like Coach said, a 15-point win against Northwestern is like a 25-point win against any other team. The style they play, the way they slow the game down and run the shot clock, I think we're feeling pretty good about the game. There's always going to be some goods and bads but it's been a tough week so we're just glad to get back on the winning path."

Neitzel played a major role in Michigan State seeing its five-game winning streak snapped, going 2-of-10 from the field for just six points - the third time this season the senior guard failed to reach double figures.

The Spartans' second-leading scorer at 13.7 points coming in, Neitzel almost completely surpassed that average before the break. He came close due to an impressive stretch where he scored 13 straight points for his team.

"Offensively, he had a good game and in that one stretch I thought he was unbelievable and he had some big-time shots," Izzo said of Neitzel. "It really saved us when we were struggling. It's good to see him hit some shots. He was looking for his shot and he made some shots."

With Michigan State facing a 18-14 deficit with just under 7 1/2 minutes left before halftime, Neitzel kept his team afloat with a stellar shooting display. He hit a 3-pointer with 7:27 to go and added a jumper 32 ticks later for a 19-18 edge.

Although the Wildcats went back ahead by four points, Neitzel sank another jumper and two more 3-pointers for a 27-26 advantage with 3:50 remaining.

"Neitzel just took over," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. "He had that stretch where he banged three threes and he used that fake and he drove to the basket to his right. The other guys were struggling a little bit and he just took over."

Feeding off Neitzel's effort, the Spartans closed the opening half with an 8-0 run to hold a 35-29 lead at the break.

"Yeah, that's my role, to score and be a playmaker," Neitzel said. "Once you hit 2-3 in a row, you feel pretty good so a couple I just wanted to let go and see if I was still hot, and they went down so it was a good spark for the team and it got me going a little bit too."

Michigan State never trailed again, although Northwestern took its best shot. Behind consecutive 3-pointers by Craig Moore, the Wildcats closed within 47-46 with 11:38 remaining.

The Spartans withstood that run and responded with one of their own, eventually pulling ahead, 62-50, behind the strength of a 15-4 spurt. Neitzel had five points and an assist during the run.

Neitzel finished 8-of-12 from the field and 4-of-8 from the arc. It was a season high in field goals made for the guard, who entered the game shooting just 6-of-22 in his previous.

Raymar Morgan and Drew Naymick added 10 points apiece for Michigan State, which ended up 52 percent (27-of-52) from the field in improving to 6-0 at home in conference play.

Naymick also blocked six shots to extend his career-record total to 115.

Moore finished with 21 points for Northwestern (7-14, 0-10), which went 39 percent (20-of-52) from the floor in remaining the lone winless team in the Big Ten.

"We haven't won a game in our conference, so it's been rough on our guys," Carmody said. "I was pleased tonight because I felt they competed on a physical nature against a good strong team, so I was happy with that. We executed pretty well in the first half, and got some easy stuff. We missed a couple of easy ones in the last 90 seconds out of our offense."

Kevin Coble scored 14 points and Jeremy Nash added 10 rebounds off the bench for the Wildcats, who had a 33-26 deficit on the boards and were outscored in the paint, 33-20.