Michigan State's second possession in its 85-70 win over Northwestern said it all.

Northwestern's JerShon Cobb hoisted a desperation 3-point attempt from 2 feet behind the line with only three seconds left on the shot clock. The shot ricocheted off the glass and right into the chest of Michigan State's Adreian Payne.

Travis Trice, still standing near the arc, clapped twice for the ball. In the split second it took for Payne to react, Trice stole a glance up court to get an idea of where his teammates would be once he got the ball. His eyes returned to Payne as he began his sprint.

Trice caught Payne's pass in stride, took one dribble and hit Denzel Valentine on the wing. Valentine passed up the transition jumper and kicked it back to Trice at the top of the key. Trice fed it inside to Matt Costello, who hit a turnaround hook shot over Wildcats center Alex Olah.

From ricochet to rim took nine seconds. It was the first of Trice's six assists and a prime example of his ability to push and distribute the ball in the absence of Michigan State's starting point guard Keith Appling, who missed his third straight game Thursday with a wrist injury.

"He's looking to be a true point guard first," coach Tom Izzo said of Trice. "That first ball, we got the ball up the court so much better than we've been doing. That was one of the keys -- let's make sure we get back to running.

"I think Travis is playing comfortably in that role. He still took a few shots, which was good. For the most part, he was really pushing the ball early."

No. 9 Michigan State (21-4, 10-2) finished with nine fast break points to Northwestern's two. That figure is still not where Izzo would like it to be, but it's something the Spartans have prioritized in practice with Trice at the helm over the past week.

"After watching the Wisconsin game, that was one of the things that we saw," Trice said. "We kind of played into their hands, played more of a half court game. In this game, after watching film, we said one of the things we wanted to do was get easy baskets and run in transition. That kind of helped us and sparked some of our shooters.

"Realizing when to run and how to run and guys doing the right thing, running the right lanes (helped). A.P. being back helps the outlet pass get out quick and it starts the break faster."

Trice finished with 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting, including 50 percent from 3-point range. But for the third straight game since taking over as the Spartans' floor general, Trice finished with zero turnovers.

As the starting point guard, Trice now has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 15-to-0.

"That's God," Trice said. "Think about it -- how many times in a game will you maybe throw the ball and it hits somebody's hands and goes out of bounds or somebody else just moves out of the way and you throw it? For me to go three games (without a turnover), that's not me, that's definitely God. I just got to thank him.

"I'm not going into the game like, 'Hey, don't turn the ball over.' It's something that you just look up at the end of the game. I'm really just trying to concentrate on getting other guys involved, making other guys better and winning. If I can do that and at the end of the day I don't have any turnovers, it's a great day."