After Northwestern‘s Tre Demps knocked down two free throws to close the gap to 39-30 at the end of the first half, it looked as if the Wildcats had a shot to extend their Big Ten road winning streak to four games.
But then the second half started.
The Spartans’ balanced attack was led by Adreian Payne who recorded his fifth double-double of the season with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Payne, playing in his second game since returning from a foot injury, showed no signs of being slowed down as he was a match-up nightmare for Northwestern.
Denzel Valentine also had a big game as he scored a career-high 16 points and added six assists, only one short of his career-high.
Northwestern (12-13, 5-7) kept it close in the first half thanks to lights-out shooting from JerShon Cobb, who finished with 22 points, including 5-for-11 from deep. Senior Drew Crawford contributed 18 points and seven assists for the Wildcats.
As expected, Michigan State (21-4, 10-2) was without starters Keith Appling and Branden Dawson as both continued to nurse injuries. Neither was needed as the Spartans pulled away in the second half against the Wildcats. Appling and Dawson hope to be back in time for the duel against Michigan in Ann Arbor on Feb. 23.
Despite a huge game against the Wolverines in the coming weeks, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo needs to look at health in the long run over in-state bragging rights. It would be nice to beat Michigan and avoid a season sweep, but the ultimate goal in East Lansing is to bring home a national championship. That can’t be done without a healthy group of Spartans.
After starting the Big Ten slate 1-4, Northwestern has turned it around under first-year coach Chris Collins. The road winning streak has quietly moved the Wildcats up to the logjam in the middle of the conference standings as they entered Wednesday’s contest only one game behind fourth place Wisconsin. But the loss to the Spartans snaps the streak and now the Wildcats return home to face Minnesota on Feb. 16.