The 20th ranked Spartans (10-2, 2-0 Big Ten), were led by Maurice Ager's 18 points. Paul Davis chipped in with 17 (on 8-of-10 shooting) and a game-high 9 rebounds. Seniors Alan Anderson and Kelvin Torbert added 13 and 12 points, respectively. Michigan State is now 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 2000 season.
Northwestern (8-6, 1-1), was led by 6'10" Center Mike Thompson, a transfer from Duke, with 16 points; and Vedran Vukusic, who scored 12 points despite hurting his right shoulder midway through the first half before returning to play later in the game.
It was a tough afternoon for the Cats, who beat Indiana by 21 in their conference opener Wednesday night. Northwestern had a chance to start 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1983, and had won seven of eight after starting the season 1-4. The Wildcats were forced to play most of the game without Guard T.J. Parker, who was limited to just five minutes of action because of the flu.
Michigan State forced the Wildcats into 19 turnovers, turning them into 24 points of their own. The Spartans also dominated in the paint, outscoring the Cats 50-to-22 and out-rebounding the visitors 30-to-19.
The victory was the seventh-straight for the Spartans, who took control midway through the opening half with a 17-5 run. The burst gave them 15 point advantage, 31-16. They kept that lead for the remainder of the half, taking a 39-24 advantage into the break
The Wildcats cut the lead to 10 points early in the second half, 50-40, before the Spartans went on a 14-5 run that ended the final Northwestern threat. Spartan point guards Chris Hill (4 assists) and Drew Neitzel (2 assists) once again combined for a turnover-free outing. Hill has 19 assists and no turnovers in the last three games. Michigan State committed just eight turnovers as a team, which marks a season-low for the Spartans.
Spartan Head Coach Tom Izzo was impressed with his team's overall effort:
"I thought that we did a great job in the first half and that really deserves a lot of credit, in terms of preparation for the game. Even though Northwestern shot 56 percent, which makes us look bad, Northwestern had 19 turnovers and only got 32 shots. I would say that our defense was better than anything else that we could have done.
"It was great to see Maurice Ager bounce back and Paul Davis almost get a double-double. I believe that we can get even more out of him. It was a game where a lot of things went our way, some of it because of their illness and injury and some of it because we are playing well."
Izzo was also impressed with the overall play of his sixth-man Torbert, who helped to settle things down during one of Northwestern's charges: "The hero of the game, if you ask me, is Kelvin Torbert. He ran that one stretch and, as I tell my staff, just watch, because Northwestern was switching up zones and it was kind of confusing. KT settles everything down. He got that one lay up because he slipped the right way like we have been telling our other guys to do."
Michigan State now takes a week off, before resuming Big Ten play Sunday, Jan. 16, when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin to face the Badgers, who have beaten the Spartans five-straight times.