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Michigan St.-Northwestern Preview

Having snapped its longest skid in three seasons, Michigan State is determined to continue heading in the right direction.

Following a much-needed victory over a top-10 opponent, the visiting No. 12 Spartans can send Northwestern to a fourth consecutive defeat Thursday night in its third of four straight games against ranked Big Ten foes.

Coming in a loser of three straight, including two at home, Michigan State (17-4, 4-4) overcame a season-low 36.1 percent shooting to beat then-No. 7 Maryland 74-65 on Saturday in East Lansing.

“We felt like we were on the bottom of the world,” said star Denzel Valentine, who had 19 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists. “But I think we’re back.”

Perhaps that’ll be the case after Michigan State held the Terrapins to their second-worst shooting performance (38.6 percent) of the season, including 8 of 27 from 3-point range. The Spartans also owned a 17-9 advantage on the offensive boards.

“It feels great just to get over that hump,” forward Kenny Goins said. “Every team has to go through it during the course of the season, but we got ours out of the way.

“Hopefully we can build off of this and keep going.”

Though the Spartans have shot 41.8 percent in the last four games, three were at home. They’ve made 48.9 percent of their field-goal attempts while going 2-1 on the road this month and are 18 of 38 from beyond the arc in the last two.

Bryn Forbes, second on the team with 13.6 points per game, totaled 17 on 5-of-22 shooting during the losing streak, but he broke out for 25 while going 8 of 15 from the floor and hitting half of his eight 3-point attempts Saturday.

“We were going to Bryn right away and I felt like we had to do that,” coach Tom Izzo said. “We had to get him going. The last few games he’s really struggled, and yet every shot he’s took was good … I’m happy for him, too. There’s no one that works harder at it.”

Valentine has averaged 22.0 points in his last three games for the Spartans, who would appear to be in good position to keep the wins coming this week against struggling Northwestern (15-6, 3-5) and with lowly Rutgers on deck.

Michigan State has won five straight over the Wildcats and shot 46.1 percent from 3-point range over the last four meetings. It made a season-high 13 of 25 from long distance in last season’s 68-44 win at Northwestern.

The Wildcats won 13 of their first 14 but have dropped five of seven and are 0-4 against ranked opponents. After falling at Maryland in overtime Jan. 19, Northwestern allowed then-No. 25 Indiana to shoot 52.6 percent in Saturday’s 89-57 road defeat.

Next up is a visit to third-ranked Iowa on Sunday.

“That’s the Big Ten for you,” said coach Chris Collins, whose team has shot 38.1 percent and is 15 of 83 (18.1) from long range while going 1-4 at home in league play.

“There are going to be ebbs and flows and there might be a loose three in a row or maybe a winning stretch with four or five. It’s a long journey of a season and this is definitely a tough stretch.”

Bryant McIntosh, who leads the team with 15.1 points per game, has averaged 9.3 on 13-of-45 shooting and missed 10 of 11 3-point attempts in the last three contests. He was 2 of 12 for a season-low four points against the Hoosiers.

Tre Demps, averaging 14.1 points, totaled 43 against the Spartans last season.

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