Men’s Basketball: Wildcats seek to extend road winning streak in East Lansing


Daily file photo by Brian Lee

Sophomore guard Tre Demps looks to make a play. Demps was the only Northwestern player to score double digits in the 54-40 loss to Michigan State on Jan. 15.

Coach Chris Collins will be looking for the biggest win of his Northwestern career Thursday.

The Wildcats (12-12, 5-6 Big Ten) will travel to East Lansing to face No. 9 Michigan State (20-4, 9-2) for the second time this season. NU fell to the Spartans at home on Jan. 15, when Michigan State was ranked in the top five.

The Cats have demonstrated a penchant for upsets so far this season. Collins’ team has notched wins over two ranked opponents and won tough road games at Indiana and Minnesota, but a win over the Spartans on Thursday would give Collins his first ever victory over a top-10 opponent.

Michigan State wore down NU during the teams’ meeting in January. The Cats hung around for a while, trailing by only 4 heading into the second half. Eventually, the Spartans pulled away for a 54-40 win.

“Sometimes you play really well, and the other team just plays better,” Collins said on the night of the loss.

Offense was an issue in NU’s first meeting with the Spartans. The Cats managed only 40 points, and only one player, sophomore guard Tre Demps, scored in double digits. NU shot just 28.3 percent from the field.

However, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo heaped praise on Collins and NU in January and reiterated his feelings Wednesday.

“You look at Northwestern, a team that a month ago everybody thought was in shambles,” Izzo told Michigan State media. “Chris (Collins) has done a great job rallying them. This is a team that, if they hadn’t lost a heartbreaker to Nebraska, they would have come in (here) with a four-game winning streak. That’s exciting. It’s a change there. Because of that, they’ll come in here (with confidence).” 

Izzo mentioned NU’s loss to Nebraska, which came at home Saturday and effectively ended any postseason hopes for the Cats.

Against the Cornhuskers, the offense again pulled a disappearing act. NU failed to score 50 points in the defeat, and senior forward Drew Crawford especially struggled, finishing with just 13 points after playing all 40 minutes.

Though the loss to Nebraska was disheartening, the Cats can take solace in their road winning streak. NU has won each of its last three away games, including an upset over then-No. 14 Wisconsin.

The Spartans, a trendy preseason Final Four pick, have been up and down since late January. They have alternated wins and losses in their last six games. Michigan State notched a big win when it defeated Iowa on the road Jan. 28, but also lost to Michigan and Wisconsin in games that were considered upsets. 

Thursday’s rematch could take on a much different tone due to the return of Spartans’ big man Adreian Payne, who missed the first meeting between the two teams last month. NU may have no answer down low for Payne, who was a preseason All-Big Ten and First-Team All-American pick at center.

The Cats did do a serviceable job on star guards Gary Harris and Keith Appling, containing the duo to only 25 points combined.

Even with NU’s postseason hopes dashed, Thursday’s game should still serve the team well. Collins, who said after the loss in January that his team was “on the verge of going somewhere,” can find out just exactly where the Cats have gone.

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