Northwestern (12-12, 5-6 Big Ten) will try for its fourth straight road win Thursday at No. 9 Michigan State (20-4, 9-2). The Wildcats have not won in East Lansing since Jan. 21, 2009.
Northwestern and Michigan State already met this season at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Jan. 15. The Wildcats trailed by only five points in the game’s final 10 minutes, but the Spartans finished on a 14-5 run for a 54-40 victory.
“We have to fight for 40 minutes,” freshman forward Sanjay Lumpkin said. “Last time it kind of got away from us.”
The Spartans will have a different look this time around.
Michigan State has been banged up all season. When the Spartans played at Northwestern, starting senior forward Adreian Payne did not play because of a foot injury.
Thursday, Payne will be in the lineup for the third time since returning from the injury.
However, senior point guard Keith Appling is out with a wrist injury, and junior forward Branden Dawson is out with a broken hand.
With Payne back, Michigan State has one of the nation’s best big men. The frontcourt is an area where Northwestern is thin.
Payne is averaging 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, and he can play both in the post and on the perimeter.
Northwestern head coach Chris Collins called defending Payne a pick-your-poison type of situation.
“You’re not going to take everything away from a great player,” Collins said. “It’s what are you going to live with. Are you willing to live with him shooting jump shots or him going into the post? And then if he starts to make you pay, then you’ve got to adjust.”
Collins has extensive experience preparing for Michigan State considering he is only in his first Big Ten season. As an assistant coach at Duke, Collins coached against the Spartans in last year’s NCAA Tournament. Duke and Michigan State also met in each of the two prior regular seasons.
I’m familiar with coaching against them, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” Collins said. “It’s one thing to know them; it’s another thing to stop them.”
Opening tip is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.