EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Travis Trice might stay in a reserve role for Michigan State. He could return to the starting lineup.
Whatever happens, the senior guard provided a big boost for the Spartans on Tuesday night.
Trice played off the bench for the second time this season and had four of Michigan State's season-high 13 3-pointers, leading the Spartans to a 68-44 victory over lowly Northwestern.
''I don't know. It's not game to game,'' coach Tom Izzo said when asked about Trice in a reserve role. ''There's some good things about it. There's still some things that I struggle with myself about it. But it needed to be done for his sake and ours.''
Trice, who started Michigan State's previous eight games, finished with 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting in 25 minutes. The co-captain averaged 11 points on 33 percent shooting in his previous six games.
''I was just happy to see the ball go through,'' he said. ''That's all that really mattered to me.''
Denzel Valentine scored 14 points and Bryn Forbes had 11 for the Spartans (16-8, 7-4 Big Ten), who bounced back from a 59-54 home loss to Illinois on Saturday. Branden Dawson finished with seven points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.
''We just came out with intensity and energy on the defensive end,'' Dawson said. ''We just sent a statement.''
Northwestern (10-14, 1-10) shot 36 percent (15 for 42) in its 10th consecutive loss. Tre Demps led the Wildcats with 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
''Very disappointing night,'' coach Chris Collins said. ''Tonight hasn't been indicative of how we've played in terms of effort and fight and competitiveness. I don't know what it was, I can't explain it. We didn't have it tonight.''
Michigan State used its outside shooting and stifling defense to put Northwestern away in the first half. Forbes and Marvin Clark Jr. each hit two 3s as the Spartans scored 22 consecutive points to open a 38-13 lead with 1:40 to go.
Demps' foul shot with 46 seconds remaining was Northwestern's only point in the final 10:46. Demps was 4 for 7 from the field in the first half while the rest of the Wildcats were 0 for 15.
''They had more energy than us the whole game,'' said forward Vic Law, who had nine points and seven rebounds for Northwestern.
Valentine opened the second half with another 3, and the Spartans led by as many as 35 on their way to their sixth consecutive victory over the Wildcats. Valentine also had a nice fast-break lob to Dawson for an alley-oop jam with 5:19 to go.
Michigan State: Izzo improved to 32-4 all-time against Northwestern and also moved into a tie with former Purdue coach Ward Lambert for third on the career Big Ten victories list with 228. Bob Knight is on top with 353 Big Ten wins with Indiana, and Gene Keady is second with 265 conference wins at Purdue. ... The Spartans have not lost consecutive games this season.
Northwestern: Former Northwestern forward Drew Crawford was greeted with a loud ovation when he was introduced in the first half. Crawford, who graduated last year, ranks second in school history with 1,920 career points. ... The last three losses of Northwestern's slide have been by at least 15 points.
The Wildcats played without starting guard JerShon Cobb, who was out with a right foot injury. Sophomore forward Nathan Taphorn missed his seventh consecutive game with a right foot injury.
Cobb also was sidelined for five consecutive games in December due to various injuries. The 6-foot-5 senior was shut out in 16 minutes in Saturday's 65-50 loss at No. 5 Wisconsin and is averaging 5.8 points in 18 games after he was second on the team last season with 12.2 points per game.
Collins said Cobb and Taphorn could return on Sunday against Iowa.
Dawson played a key role in Michigan State's fast start. The senior had seven rebounds and each of his four blocked shots in the first half.
''Dawson was unbelievable early,'' Izzo said. ''He defended, he rebounded. He had rebounds above the rim. He started our fast break. Blocked shots started our fast break. He was the big difference.''
Michigan State hosts No. 23 Ohio State on Saturday.
Northwestern hosts Iowa on Sunday.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap