EAST LANSING, Mich. – This was one Big Ten title coach Tom Izzo could live without.
Needing help from rival Michigan for a chance to share the conference crown, No. 10 Michigan State instead settled for second place. The Spartans beat Northwestern 71-61 on Sunday night, but they'd already been eliminated from the championship race when Indiana beat the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
"Sure, I would have liked to have another Big Ten championship, but I like getting them when I earn them," Izzo said. "I don't need anybody else earning them for me."
Keith Appling scored 16 points and Gary Harris added 12 for the Spartans, who struggled to put away the undermanned Wildcats. Northwestern (13-18, 4-14 Big Ten) rallied from a 13-point first-half deficit, tying the game at 51 before the Spartans recovered.
Kale Abrahamson scored 16 points for Northwestern, which has lost eight straight. The Spartans finished in a tie for second place with Ohio State, a game behind Indiana.
Michigan State senior Derrick Nix scored 10 points in his final home game. The Spartans (24-7, 13-5) shot 66 percent from the field and 6 of 10 from 3-point range.
Michigan State held its ceremony for Nix after the game — and Izzo did his best to fire up the crowd, despite the fact that the Spartans fell short of the title. Michigan State needed Michigan to beat Indiana for the Spartans to have any chance of sharing the championship.
"You've got yourself a blue-collar coach who hasn't been given anything," Izzo told the crowd. "And I don't want anything from anyone else in this state."
The Wolverines and Hoosiers were tied at 64 when Michigan State's game tipped off. Michigan inched ahead, and with fans in East Lansing glancing at hand-held devices, it appeared the Wolverines might get a rare ovation at the Breslin Center.
But Michigan let the game slip away, removing some of the meaning from Michigan State's regular-season finale. Appling said he got the news of the Wolverines' loss from assistant coach Dane Fife.
"Coach Fife told me they won. Then he said they lost," Appling said. "After that it was hard to focus in on the game."
The rest of the first half seemed anti-climactic — the most interesting moment might have been when a small bird was spotted on the actual playing surface near midcourt for a few seconds.
Early in the second half, out-of-town scores were announced at Breslin, but Michigan-Indiana was left out. That drew a chuckle from some people in the crowd.
At that point, Northwestern had rallied to within five. It was 43-40 before Travis Trice and Adreian Payne made back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead back to nine.
The Wildcats answered with an 11-2 run, tying it at 51 on two free throws by Reggie Hearn. Abrahamson could have given Northwestern the lead, but his 3-pointer from near the top of the key went in and out.
Northwestern went 7 of 27 from beyond the arc.
"To beat that team, you have to be 12 for 27," Wildcats coach Bill Carmody said. "You can't be 7 for 27."
Harris put Michigan State back up by two. Alex Olah tied it again with a dunk, but Nix scored inside to give the Spartans the lead for good.
Nix was pulled with 1:03 remaining and his team up by nine. He kissed the Spartans' logo at midcourt and then left to a nice hand.
"This program has given me way more than I've given the program," Nix told the crowd afterward. "This is probably the best team I've been on my whole life. These guys have all come to my rescue at some point, and Coach is probably the closest I've had to a father."
Northwestern, which is without Drew Crawford and Jared Swopshire because of injuries, will be seeded 11th in the Big Ten tournament. Michigan State will be the No. 3 seed.