EAST LANSING, Mich. — If Chris Collins had been wearing a cap, he would have tipped it in the direction of Michigan State's bench.
"They're a very difficult team to play against with those weapons all over the court," Collins said. "They're loaded. When they're healthy, I truly believe they are the best team in the country."
Even with starters Branden Dawson and Keith Appling out with injuries, the ninth-ranked Spartans had little trouble dispatching Northwestern on Thursday night at the Breslin Center, pulling away early in the second half for an 85-70 victory.
- Photos: Michigan State 85, Northwestern 70
- Video: Demps on NU's loss to Michigan State
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Breslin Center, Michigan State University, 1 Birch Road, East Lansing, MI 48823, USA
Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern University, 2705 Ashland Avenue, Evanston, IL 60208, USA
Michigan State shot 53.3 percent from the field overall and made 11 of 21 3-point attempts. The Spartans assisted on 22 of their 32 baskets with just seven turnovers.
Adreian Payne scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half, setting the tone with a slam on Michigan State's first possession after halftime. After Denzel Valentine nailed a 3-pointer, Collins called for time just 86 seconds into the half.
Later Kenny Kaminski was left all alone for a layup and Collins put out his hands as if to say: How did that happen?
"We had more breakdowns defensively," Collins said afterward, "than we've had in the last month."
JerShon Cobb caught fire early in the second half, nailing three 3-pointers (one was a four-point play) in the span of 84 seconds.
"I was feeling good," said Cobb, who scored a game-high 22 points. "But we didn't win. They locked in. They're a great team, a team you can look up to. They are where we want to be."
That was Collins' message. He twice called the game "a learning experience" for his team.
What can the Wildcats (12-13, 5-7 Big Ten) learn from the Spartans (21-4, 10-2)?
"What makes a good team good," Collins replied. "They talked very well (to one another), their intensity, their ability to focus and play their game. We've been doing a good job in the last month of getting teams to play our game. But they imposed their will and made us play at their pace."
The sprinter's pace and impressive shooting made for an entertaining affair, way more pleasing to watch than most Northwestern contests. But the Wildcats can't win allowing teams to score 75 points, let alone 85.
"The way they get up and down, their transition, is like no other," said Tre Demps, who scored 18 points. "You can't really prepare for the real thing. … They have great players, (future) pros, guys who will play overseas.
"At the same time you have to give great players resistance. You can't let them feel like they can get everything they want."