Badgers' road win streak ends in East Lansing blowout
Michigan State looked focused and sharp on Thursday night, the Spartans' sights set on staying atop the Big Ten.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, looked every bit like a team whose week off did more harm than good.
The Badgers (19-7, 8-5 Big Ten) played about 10 minutes of good basketball, which spells trouble in a 40-minute game. And trouble is exactly what they got because the Spartans (21-5, 10-3) chose to attack for the better part of those 40 minutes. Behind a litany of three-point plays, Michigan State ran to a 21-point lead late in the game before burying Wisconsin, 69-55, in East Lansing.
None of the Badgers were free of the on-court sluggishness. Ryan Evans led UW with 17 points and six rebounds, but was uncharacteristically unsound on defense. Jordan Taylor hit just 3-of-13 from the field. Mike Bruesewitz, Josh Gasser and Ben Brust combined for eight points and 12 fouls.
Michigan State's inspired defense contributed a lot to Wisconsin's woes. Keith Appling, Austin Thornton and the rest of the Spartans were in front of Taylor at every turn. The Badgers played right into MSU's aggressive style by playing tentatively -- even passing up layups on several occasions in favor of a teammate on the perimeter.
Added to the uninspired offense were a number of poor passes and sluggish-looking defense. The result was a entirely lackluster first half in which the Spartans took advantage of the lax Wisconsin transition defense for a 15-0 edge in fast break points.
Another familiar theme refused to die. Wisconsin settled for too many jump shots and suffered several offensive droughts because of it. The Badgers shot just 5-of-24 (20.8%) on 3-pointers. The first one didn't drop until there were three minutes to go in the first half and UW already trailed by 10.
After spotting Michigan State a 6-0 lead, Wisconsin came alive for the first time with a 12-2 run. Four different players scored in the spurt. Even Rob Wilson assisted on Evans' 18-footer to extend the Badger lead to four with just under 10 minutes in the half.
But what followed was an unprecedented string of whistles on made baskets. Draymond Green ignited the crowd with a push to the rim in transition, to make the score 14-12, and was fouled by Bruesewitz. Though Green missed the free throw, Michigan State never looked back.
Green sank a wide-open 3-pointer as the trailer on MSU's next possession, and it wasn't the only open jumper he converted where UW's defense appeared to simply lose track of the leading candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year. The senior knocked home 20 points to go with 10 rebounds and five assists.
The two teams traded baskets for first seven minutes of the second half, until the Spartan parade to the free throw line resumed. Trailing 44-30, Wisconsin repeatedly got caught out of position and reached for silly fouls. Michigan State's passing looked crisp and it cost UW dearly. All told, four consecutive possessions ended in the Spartans converting "and-ones."
Green, Appling, Nix and Dawson were all in on the action again, pushing Michigan State to its largest lead at 58-37. For those keeping track, that's eight total hoops with an extra free throw tacked on -- six of them converted.
Check out the startling difference in free throw rate. It says it all.
The Badgers suddenly looked motivated and aggressive for a four-and-a-half minute stretch late in the game. A 16-4 streak led by Evans pulled Wisconsin to within 60-51. But it was too little, too late as MSU salted the game away from the free throw line over the final three minutes.
Ironically, it would have been a great night for Wisconsin to be involved in a close game since the Badgers shot a flawless 14-for-14 from the charity stripe.
Other highlights on an otherwise forgettable night for Wisconsin were 16 fairly solid minutes from Wilson, who had five points and four rebounds, and Frank Kaminsky's six rebounds in 12 minutes. The Badgers actually out-rebounded the Spartans, 33-30.
Jared Berggren played only 24 minutes due to foul trouble, but was effective offensively when checked in. Berggren finished with four fouls, while Bruesewitz fouled out.
Both teams committed 10 turnovers on the night. Three of UW's miscues came during a 5-minute stretch that stifled the momentum gained from its early 12-2 spurt. Wisconsin came into the contest averaging 8.8 turnovers per game on the season, but it was the nine points MSU converted off the five first-half turnovers which made the biggest difference.
Appling, a sophomore out of Detroit, added a sneaky 20 points of his own for Tom Izzo.
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