Jan. 7, 2010
EAST LANSING, Mich. - No one expects a shootout when Michigan State and Wisconsin meet on the hardwood. Visions of a 53-41 Final Four win over the Badgers during the national title run in 2000 are still fresh in Spartan fans' minds. Not to mention the 19-17 halftime score of that game.
So when MSU took a 22-20 lead into the break Wednesday night against Wisconsin, everything was about in its right place. It's just the way it is when these two teams get together.
On a chilly night in January that will surely affect the conference standings once spring hits in March, the Spartans did just enough to hold off the Badgers for the fifth-straight time in the Breslin Center and push themselves to 2-0 in the Big Ten against their second-straight ranked opponent, while at the same time snapping Wisconsin's six-game winning streak.
But it wasn't easy.
The Spartans might have only scored a season-low 54 points, but they also put together their best defensive effort of the season, holding Wisconsin to season lows in field-goal percentage (.333), 3-point field-goal percentage (.217), free throws (8), rebounds (27), and, in the most important category, points. In this case, a mere 47 by the Badgers, their lowest output under head coach Bo Ryan against Michigan State.
"It was a tough game to play, a tough game to coach and a tough game to officiate, and that's what these two teams do," said MSU head coach Tom Izzo. "Yet, it was a good win for us at home, and one that I think will help us because we need to learn to win in a very gritty way."
Said Ryan: "I don't know about you, but I'm sore just from watching."
One offensive bright spot for the Spartans came from junior guard Chris Allen, who scored a team-high 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor. He also grabbed a season-high six rebounds.
"I'm iced up right now," said Allen after the game, pointing to ice packs on both of his knees in the locker room. "Playing against other teams, sometimes you don't know what they're going to be doing, but we know Wisconsin is going to play hard. We knew what it was going to be like tonight. It's a rivalry."
In a game that featured the top two rebounding teams in the Big Ten, the Spartans held a significant 41-27 advantage on the boards. Ranked fourth in the nation in rebounding margin at +10.3, hitting the glass continues to be the trademark of success for Michigan State.
"They are tough and physical, just like us," said Draymond Green, who once again proved to be a spark off the bench with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists, including a key putback on an offensive rebound that made it 41-38 in favor of MSU at the 8:56 mark. "They are never going to back down."
MSU led the entire game, but never by more than six points in the second half until the two-minute mark.
With the Spartans clinging to a six-point lead at 47-41 and 2:09 remaining, Izzo called a timeout. It paid off.
Out of the break and with the shot clock winding down, Kalin Lucas blew past his defender at the top of key and drove to the hole for a jumper in the lane, giving the Spartans a commanding eight-point advantage with just under two minutes left.
Although Jason Bohannon cut the lead to 49-44 on a 3-pointer 20 seconds later, the Badgers would not get any closer. From that point, the menacing Spartan defense, combined with the crowd - including an Alumni Izzone section of more than 850 strong - was just too much. MSU hit 5-of-6 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
"I think this will be good for us because we had to win a game like this," said Izzo. "You always question your team's toughness until you see them against a tough team, and that was a tough team we played."
"Coach told us before the game and at halftime that if we locked down on defense, we were going to win the game," Lucas said. "He told us the toughest team was going to win. They were feisty, but at the same time, we were feisty too."
When Michigan State and Wisconsin get together, it's not going to be any other way.