EVANSTON, Ill. - Michigan State's 13-point lead quickly evaporated in the final minutes and instead of coasting to a victory over Northwestern, the Spartans were on the verge of losing control.
Then Draymond Green got his 11th and biggest rebound of the night, an offensive board off a free throw miss by teammate Kalin Lucas. Green dropped the ball in the basket with :12 seconds to go Monday night and the 18th-ranked Spartans held on for a 65-62 victory.
"I think it will be one of those years for us where nothing is going to be easy," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of the close call, blaming himself for not using some timeouts to stop a late and furious rally by Northwestern.
"We just got a little out of whack and I think I'm the one that needs to be blamed for that," Izzo added.
Green finished with 15 points and Durrell Summers and Lucas had 12 points apiece for the Spartans (10-4, 2-0 Big Ten), who beat Northwestern for the 15th time in the last 16 meetings.
Michigan State made a strong defensive effort against Northwestern's John Shurna, the Big Ten's leading scorer at 22.2 points who has been bothered by a sore ankle.
Shurna was just 1-for-11 shooting and missed four of his five 3-point attempts while scoring 11 points. Drew Crawford led the Wildcats (9-3, 0-2) with 17 points.
Michael Thompson had 12 points, nine in a late 12-0 run that helped the Wildcats chop a 13-point deficit down to a single point with 28 seconds left.
"We did a good job on Shurna. We just said anytime he's coming out, we're going to have to switch out on him," Izzo said of the league's most accurate 3-point shooter entering the game.
"I watched him move earlier in the year and I watched him move the last two games and I don't think he's quite there, and they need him. He's their best player."
Summers hit a 3-pointer and Lucas a pair of jumpers during a 7-0 run that put the Spartans up 10 with just under 10 minutes left. The Spartans increased the lead to 13 on a Lucas jumper with 3:47 to go and appeared to have victory wrapped up.
But Thompson, who'd also struggled through a tough shooting night, led a Northwestern comeback. His 3-pointer with 1:10 left cut the lead back to 63-60.
Michigan State's Green was called for an offensive foul with :51 seconds to go and after a timeout, Thompson got free for a layup that sliced it to 63-62 with 28 seconds remaining.
"It was a nice little comeback for us. Mike decided that enough was enough and I'll call my own number,'' said Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, whose team has a challenging stretch ahead with three of the next four on the road at Illinois, Iowa and a rematch with the Spartans.
After Lucas missed a free throw with 13.7 seconds left, Green maneuvered in for the offensive rebound and converted a lay-up with 12 seconds to go, putting the Spartans up by three.
"I'm used to Kalin making them," Green said. "I thought he was going to make them, but I told myself I'm going to get in there just in case he misses it. I just tried to get there any way I could. I was able to get the rebound and go back up with it."
After Thompson missed a 3-point attempt, Crawford rebounded and Northwestern got a final timeout with nine-tenths of second to play.
Crawford took the inbounds pass but could not get off a good shot as the horn sounded.
With Shurna struggling, the Wildcats lost their top option against a difficult defense.
"He didn't seem to have the little pop," Carmody said. "Those are shots he's been making all year. He'll get better. He's a tough kid."
Michigan State's victory came on a night when the Spartans shot only five free throws, making one, to 16-of-24 for the Wildcats.
Six and a half minutes into the second half, Michigan State had been called for eight fouls and Northwestern none.
When Northwestern was finally called for a second-half foul with 13:13 left, sending Michigan State to the line for the first time in the game, a loud contingent of Spartans fans jumped to their feet with a mock cheer.
Northwestern shot just 31.6 percent from the field for the game and Michigan State 48.3 percent. The Spartans finished with a 45-33 rebounding edge. They led 35-31 at the half behind 10 points from Green, who finished 7 for 11 from the field.