EVANSTON, Illinois — When Chris Collins was an assistant at Duke, the Blue Devils only had one season with double-digit losses. They dropped a total of 77 games in Collins' 13 years on the coaching staff at his alma mater.
Now Collins is trying to rebuild Northwestern, and is facing quite the challenge for the final part of his second season with the Wildcats.
Northwestern has dropped 10 in a row for the school's longest slide since it lost 12 consecutive games in Kevin O'Neill's final season in charge in 1999-2000. Some of the losses have been very competitive, but the young Wildcats were outclassed by Michigan State on Tuesday night.
The Spartans went on a 22-0 run in the first half and went on to a 68-44 victory. The Wildcats shot 36 percent from the field and committed 15 turnovers.
"The thing that I was disappointed in is I didn't think we played hard enough to be worthy of winning," Collins said. "I didn't feel that we had the sense of fight that we have been having."
It was so bad that Michigan State tried to run out the clock for much of the second half.
"They've been playing awfully well and I've been in his shoes and when you do that, you're a young team and then some things go wrong, it's hard to lose games by one point, two points," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "We've got kind of some veterans, and I know what we've gone through losing some games."
It was a marked turnaround from Northwestern's hard-fought overtime loss at Michigan State on Jan. 11. The Wildcats (10-14, 1-10 Big Ten) then played close, tight games against Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Maryland, but dropped all of them by a total of 10 points.
"We talked about it. When you go through a stretch and you're not rewarded and you don't get the results, you fight that human nature of getting a little bit beat down," Collins said.
Collins coached Northwestern to a 14-19 record in his first season, including a rare victory at Wisconsin. But he lost leading scorer Drew Crawford to graduation, and key senior JerShon Cobb has been hampered by injuries for much of this year.
"I think the last seven games we have this season, we can really start to build our foundation," freshman forward Vic Law said. "We still need to play hard and continue to play with the toughness and the things we did earlier that really brought us success."
It's going to be very difficult for Law and Northwestern to match the intensity of their opponent for the rest of the schedule when they take on several teams looking to bolster their resume for a postseason spot.
Cobb and sophomore forward Nathan Taphorn (right foot) could return when the Wildcats host Iowa on Sunday. The rest of the regular season includes home games against Indiana, Penn State and Michigan, and trips to Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa.
"We need to find some fighters in that locker room," Collins said. "We need to find a group that is going to come back and play the way, the effort that we have been playing with most of this conference season."
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap