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Northwestern loses battle on the boards, falls to Michigan State 85-70

Michigan State's Adreian Payne (5) goes up for dunk against Northwestern as Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) watches during first

Michigan State's Adreian Payne (5) goes up for a dunk against Northwestern as Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

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Updated: February 13, 2014 10:58PM

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Coach Chris Collins called Northwestern’s game Thursday at No. 9 Michigan State a learning experience. Guard JerShon Cobb called the Spartans a good team to look up to.

But Michigan State’s 85-70 victory against the Wildcats more aptly can be characterized as a reality check.

That’s not to diminish what Collins and NU (12-13, 5-7 Big Ten) have accomplished. Road victories against Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin have made Collins look every bit like the savior the Wildcats’ program has been ­waiting for.

But NU won those games on effort, and the Spartans (21-4, 10-2) proved the Wildcats’ best effort isn’t always good enough.

‘‘They’re the standard of excellence in this league, so it was a great learning experience for our guys,’’ Collins said. ‘‘I thought we played hard. We battled. We just played against a better team.’’

Actually, it was a learning experience for about six guys. That’s all Collins really can use if he wants NU to stay competitive.

The Wildcats didn’t do themselves any favors early. If they are going to be the defensive team they’ve said they have to be to win, they have to rebound. At halftime, NU had 12 rebounds — only three more than the Spartans had on the offensive end alone. Michigan State ended up outrebounding the Wildcats 37-24.

So what makes a great team? Depth. Good thing Collins has added that by signing five players in the 2014 recruiting class. NU players didn’t say fatigue was a factor, but Collins admitted a lack of depth is hard to overcome.

‘‘You’ve got to learn from what makes a good team good, and it will be good to be able to watch some of the clips,’’ Collins said. ‘‘Their intensity, their ability to force us to play their game . . . we’ve been doing a good job the last month of making people play our game.’’

The Wildcats won’t get another lesson like that in their remaining six regular-season games. So if they hope to build on what they’ve accomplished, they had better have absorbed all they could.

‘‘I don’t know if we prepared the way we should have, so we’ve just got to learn from it,’’ forward Sanjay Lumpkin said. ‘‘And it’s disappointing that it took a loss like this for us to hopefully wake up.’’


Twitter: @SethGruen

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