Rapid Reaction: Northwestern 81, MSU 74

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Here’s a quick look at Northwestern’s 81-74 win over No. 7 Michigan State on Saturday.

How it happened: Unlike its past two games (losses to Illinois and Michigan), Northwestern didn’t unravel in the second half against the Spartans. The Wildcats led by two points at halftime and only extended that in the second half. They led by as many as 13 points in the second half, holding strong when Michigan State cut the lead to five points with 5:32 left. The Wildcats got their usual production from John Shurna (22 points) and Drew Crawford (20 points), but where this game was won was by the play of the Northwestern role players. Senior Davide Curletti and junior Reggie Hearn combined for 27 points for the Wildcats.

What it means: Northwestern’s NCAA tournament hopes could have vanished with another Big Ten loss. The Wildcats not only remained alive with their upset, but they also added a quality win over a top-10 team to their resume.

Outside the box: Can anyone figure out the Big Ten at this point? On Saturday alone, Northwestern upset Michigan State, and Iowa took down Michigan. No one is safe at this point.

Player of the game: Curletti was making only the second start of his career. His last one came back in his freshman year. After averaging 3.7 points and 2.9 rebounds before Saturday’s game, he went off for 17 points, six rebounds and four assists.

What’s next: Northwestern’s schedule doesn’t get it any easier. The Wildcats travel to Wisconsin next. They haven’t won in Madison since February 1996. Michigan State heads to Michigan on Tuesday.