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Wed, Jan 15, 2014 - 7:00 PM ET
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Michigan St.-Northwestern Preview

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Keith Appling has been one of Michigan State's most reliable players as coach Tom Izzo's team continues to battle injuries.

The fourth-ranked Spartans likely will need Appling to step up again Wednesday night at Northwestern with two starters possibly having to sit out.

Michigan State (15-1, 4-0 Big Ten) has matched its best 16-game start in 19 seasons under Izzo despite missing key players at different points throughout the campaign.

With senior big man Adreian Payne out with a sprained foot and junior Branden Dawson playing through an illness, Appling hit 15 of 16 from the free throw line and scored 24 points to help the Spartans rally for an 87-75 overtime win over Minnesota on Saturday.

Appling, averaging 16.4 points and ranking third in the conference with 4.6 assists per game, has scored at least 20 points seven times. He reached that mark on eight occasions through his first three seasons.

"Everybody on this team has a job to do, and whenever everyone does their job, they look good. It's as simple as that," Appling said. "That's the main thing about it. We just have to continue to do our jobs and as a team, we'll continue to grow."

The main problem, though, is that the team hasn't been whole for quite some time due to injuries. Payne likely will sit out again Wednesday and could miss even more time as Izzo said he wants him to be 100 percent healthy.

Dawson, second in the Big Ten in rebounding at 8.7 per game, has totaled just 10 points over his last two. Izzo has suspected something wrong him, but good news came Monday when tests for mononucleosis came back negative. Dawson officially is listed as questionable due to a virus.

"We're going to have to tough it out, win ugly, win pretty, win some way. As long as it continues to be a W, we're going to have to live with this until we get everybody back (healthy)," Izzo said. "I love my team. If everybody is who they are, and we get everybody back, we're going to be real good."

The Spartans have won eight in a row despite the adversity, and they'll look to continue that run by beating a Northwestern squad coming off a 49-43 upset of then-No. 23 Illinois on Sunday.

The Wildcats (8-9, 1-3) snapped their four-game losing streak and won their first Big Ten game under coach Chris Collins despite shooting just 37.2 percent from the field.

Northwestern has shot less than 40 percent in six straight and ranks last in the conference at 40.5 percent for the season.

"Thinking of getting my first Big Ten win, I never thought my team would have only 49 points,'' Collins said. ''I always liked to have 49 myself when I played.''

Drew Crawford scored 13 points, while JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps added 11 apiece.

Dave Sobolewski started 15 of 16 games at point guard before sitting out due to a concussion suffered in practice. He's likely to be out against the Spartans as well, and Collins is hoping Cobb can step up in Sobolewski's spot again.

"JerShon, we need him to be aggressive," Collins told the team's official website. "I think having the ball to start helps get him in that mode."

Appling scored 16 points to help Michigan State win the most recent meeting, 71-61 on March 10.

"Anytime you play them, it's a man's game," Collins said of the Spartans. "You can't be young out there. You've got to be tough. That's going to be a challenge for our guys."

Northwestern won the last home matchup with Michigan State, 81-74 on Jan. 14, 2012.

Tagged: Northwestern, Michigan State, Michigan, Cal State Fullerton, JerShon Cobb, Keith Appling, Chris Collins

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