EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) –This wasn’t the Northwestern team Chris Collins had watched for the past few weeks.
Gone was the tenacious defense that had forced other Big Ten teams into ugly, low-scoring affairs. Instead, the Wildcats ended up in a bit of a shooting contest with No. 9 Michigan State — and that did not end well.
“We definitely had more breakdowns tonight defensively than I thought we’ve had in the last month,” said Collins, in his first season as Northwestern’s coach. “Part of that is them running a really good offense, and part of that were some breakdowns we had that we just haven’t had.”
Adreian Payne had 20 points and 14 rebounds, and Michigan State cruised past the Wildcats 85-70 on Thursday night to stay tied atop the Big Ten. JerShon Cobb had 22 points and seven rebounds for Northwestern.
The Spartans (21-4, 10-2) are even in the standings with rival Michigan — and those two teams meet in Ann Arbor on Feb. 23.
Gary Harris added 14 points for Michigan State, rebounding a bit from a poor shooting performance in a loss to Wisconsin last weekend. The Spartans shot 53 percent from the field.
“When healthy, I truly believe they’re the best team in the country,” Collins said. “They’re loaded. I hope they can get healthy.”
Michigan State was without point guard Keith Appling, who has been bothered by a wrist injury, and Branden Dawson has been out with a hand injury.
The Wildcats (12-13, 5-7) had not allowed 80 points in a game in over a month. During that span, they’d won road games at Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota, their tough defense giving a number of teams problems along the way.
But this game started with both teams scoring efficiently through much of the first half. Michigan State led 39-30 at halftime, then scored the first seven points of the second half. Payne had a dunk and a 3-pointer in that stretch, and although the Wildcats prevented the game from getting totally out of hand, they weren’t able to cut their deficit back into single digits.
“The way that they get up and down in transition is like no other,” Northwestern’s Tre Demps said. “You can’t really prepare for the real thing. Every time they push it, it’s amazing how fast they get it up and down the court.”
It was an 11-point game when Denzel Valentine and Harris made back-to-back 3-pointers to give Michigan State a 77-60 lead. Valentine finished with a career-high 16 points, along with six assists and five rebounds.
“When I’m scoring the basketball, it really adds something to this team,” Valentine said. “If I can score from eight on up, we’re a different team.”
Travis Trice had 11 points and six assists, helping the Spartans withstand Appling’s absence.
Harris went 3 of 20 in the loss to Wisconsin, but he scored seven points in the first half of this game and had plenty of help. Michigan State had nine offensive rebounds in the first half and shot 62 percent from the field in the second to pull away.
Michigan State beat Northwestern 54-40 on Jan. 15, but this was a much higher-scoring game. Cobb made five 3-pointers, and Drew Crawford and Demps scored 18 points each for the Wildcats.
But only two other Northwestern players scored.
The Spartans shot 11 of 21 from 3-point range, with Trice and Valentine making three shots each from beyond the arc. Michigan State turned the ball over only seven times.
“We’ve been doing a good job the last month of making people play our game,” Collins said. “I thought, really probably since the Iowa game a few weeks ago, they did the best job against us of imposing their will, making us play at their tempo, at their speed, and we just can’t match up to that.”
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