Evanston, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - Gary Harris scored 14 points and Keith Appling had 11 as the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans got by the Northwestern Wildcats, 54-40, at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
A Big Ten mismatch on paper turned out to be a close contest for the first 30 minutes until the Spartans (16-1, 5-0 Big Ten) pulled away for their ninth straight win.
Michigan State made up for a horrid 2-for-16 showing from 3-point range by holding the Wildcats to 28.3 percent shooting and forcing 12 turnovers.
Tre Demps led Northwestern (8-10, 1-3) with 12 points, but the Wildcats made just two field goals over the final 14-plus minutes in losing for the fifth time in six games.
Playing without Adreian Payne for the second straight game with a right foot sprain, the Spartans again struggled to put away a weaker opponent.
They narrowly escaped Minnesota in overtime last Saturday and needed a late 10-2 run to thwart Northwestern's upset bid on Wednesday.
Northwestern was within 40-35 before the spurt began with a Harris layup near the midway point, and Appling's two free throws gave the Spartans a healthy 50-37 lead with 4:59 remaining.
Three straight free throws had the Wildcats within 10, but they went scoreless over the final four minutes to come up short.
"I couldn't be prouder of how our guys played tonight," Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said. "Sometimes you play really well, and the other team just plays better."
It was no more than a four-point game the entire first half, which ended with Harris getting a runner to fall in the final minute to give the Spartans a 26-22 lead at the break.
Michigan State never trailed in the second half.
Michigan State came in shooting 40 percent from behind the arc while averaging 81.9 points per game ... This marks the first time in school history the Spartans have won their first eight games away from East Lansing ... Northwestern guard JerShon Cobb scored all eight of his points in the first half ... Michigan State's Branden Dawson grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.