Northwestern coach Chris Collins certainly feels that way after
the short-handed Spartans thumped his team 85-70 Thursday night at
Breslin Center. Michigan State played without two starters,
including senior point guard Keith Appling, but had no difficulty
moving into a first-place tie in the Big Ten with rival Michigan.
"When healthy, I truly believe they're the best team in the
country," Collins said. "They're loaded, and I hope they can get
healthy because you never want to go through a year where you say,
'What if we had our guys?' Hopefully, they'll get their guys back
because it would be exciting to see what they can become."
They looked just fine without Appling, who missed his third straight
game with a right wrist injury, and forward Branden Dawson, who sat
out for the sixth consecutive game with a broken right hand.
Trice, who had 11 points and six assists, hasn't committed a
turnover since replacing Appling in the lineup. With Trice leading
the attack, the Spartans (21-4, 10-2 Big Ten) shot 53.3 percent from
the floor and had their highest-scoring output in regulation in
"It kind of shows our depth," Trice said. "Due to injuries, it's
shown how talented our team is from top to bottom. When you can lose
two or three of your starters and you don't have any drop-off,
that's big. Our big thing now is just trying to get those guys back
and keep this thing moving."
Trice kept Michigan State's offense at a high pace, and with Collins
playing essentially a six-man rotation, Northwestern couldn't keep
"He's looking to be a true point guard first," Spartans coach Tom
Izzo said of Trice. "That first half, we got the ball up the court
so much better than we've been doing, and that was one of the keys,
to get back to running. Travis is playing comfortable in that role."
Michigan State senior forward Adreian Payne is back in his comfort
zone after missing seven games with a foot injury. In his third game
since returning, Payne posted team highs with 20 points and 14
rebounds. The Spartans outrebounded the smaller Wildcats 37-24.
"We're undersized as it is, so when they had that big lineup in
there, I thought they were physically dominant," Collins said.
"They're learning how to play well together. They're the standard of
excellence in this league, so it was a great learning experience for
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Guard Denzel Valentine contributed 16 points and six assists for
Michigan State, and guard Gary Harris scored 14 points.
Guard JerShon Cobb tied his season high with 22 points for
Northwestern, which failed in its bid for a fourth straight Big Ten
road victory. Forward Drew Crawford and guard Tre Demps added 18
Michigan State opened the second half with seven unanswered points,
including five by Payne, for a 46-30 lead. Cobb responded with 10
points in the first 4:08 of the half, but Northwestern (12-13, 5-7)
never recovered from the Spartans' early outburst. Michigan State
maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
The teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the Big Ten in scoring defense and
field-goal percentage defense entering the game, but it didn't look
that way in the first half.
Valentine had 11 points and five assists as the Spartans shot 47.1
percent and grabbed a 39-30 halftime lead. Northwestern shot 50
percent before the break but was hampered by six turnovers.
The Wildcats wound up shooting 46.2 percent for the game and giving
the ball away nine times. The Spartans committed only seven
NOTES: The Spartans won for the 46th time in the past 50 meetings.
Michigan State won the first matchup this season in Evanston, 54-40.
Northwestern's most recent victory in East Lansing was a 70-63
triumph on Jan. 21, 2009. ... Wildcats F Drew Crawford is one of
three active Division I players with at least 1,700 points, 600
rebounds and 200 3-point field goals in his career, joining
Creighton's Doug McDermott and South Carolina Upstate's Torrey
Craig. ... The Spartans' 11.3 turnover average is the lowest since
Tom Izzo became head coach in 1995. The previous low during the Izzo
era was 13.0 in 2011-12. ... The Wildcats, who came into the game
tied for sixth in the conference standings, finished higher than
seventh in the Big Ten only once since the 1969-70 season. Their 8-8
conference record in 2003-04 tied them for fifth place.
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