EAST LANSING — After a 20-point second half effort doomed Wisconsin in a humbling defeat to Purdue Sunday, the Badgers’ offensive futility seemed to finally be catching up with them. Catch up they did at the Breslin Center Thursday night as UW’s distant Big Ten title hopes finally crumbled in a 58-43 loss to Michigan State.
Just like in the loss to the Boilermakers, head coach Bo Ryan said Wisconsin (20-10, 11-6 Big Ten) had open looks at the basket. But that could not alter the fact that the Badgers finished 29.4 percent from the field and a brutal 17.4 percent from three-point range.
“I don’t really think I can explain [the shooting issues] and just have to have guys put them up confidently and once we get a few knocked down, we’re going to find that rhythm again,” freshman forward Sam Dekker said. “But yeah, today was just another day it wasn’t there from the outside.”
When Jared Berggren sunk a 15-footer from the left corner to open the half, it appeared Wisconsin’s offense might return from the locker room following an 18-point first half with renewed energy. Yet even those hopes were quickly crushed as the Badgers missed their next 14 shots.
That shooting drought — which lasted more than seven minutes — allowed the Spartans (23-7, 12-5) to take complete control with a 16-0 run and build a 21-point lead before the second half’s midway point. Senior guard Keith Appling — limited to just five points in the first period — led the onslaught by shooting 4-of-7 from the floor and grabbing 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half.
From that point forward, Wisconsin found itself playing a hopeless game of catch-up as freshman stud Gary Harris, alongside Appling, rediscovered the form that went strangely missing in the first half. Held without a single point in the first half, Harris posted 11 in the second half.
The Badgers kept firing — missing 11 consecutive three-pointers before Dekker sunk a long ball with 12 seconds left — but they never cut the margin thinner than 15 points in the game’s final 14:17.
“It’s always a combination of things — what they’re doing, what we’re not doing and you just can’t have those spells,” Ryan said. “We’ve been on the other end of that this year … you say to yourself after a game, ‘There’s no way in the world that team we just maybe beat by X number of points, there’s no way they’re that bad.’”
Michigan State dominated the paint with 32 points to Wisconsin’s 12, often transforming turnovers into easy fast-break baskets that let them run away with the game.
After a first half in which both teams combined for only 53 points, when Denzel Valentine dumped a pass to Travis Trice, who sunk a three as the buzzer sounded to give Michigan State a 25-18 halftime lead. That play served as a fitting opening act for a second half in which Michigan State grabbed the steering wheel and never even glanced into the rearview mirror.
“When you’re in a hole, there’s looks that are open and some that aren’t,” said junior guard Ben Brust, the only UW player to finish in double figures. “Some that you probably wouldn’t want to take if you weren’t in that position. So early on, we were still there early and then just got in the hold and just couldn’t dig out of it.”
The Badgers’ offense struggled mightily to find any easy baskets in the opening 20 minutes, hitting 33 percent of their shots and only two of their nine three-point tries. UW spoiled several early possessions and finished with eight turnovers in that first half, many the product of active hands and intelligent reads from Michigan State defenders.
But Wisconsin’s interior defense kept the Spartans’ two premier post players — Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix — to a combined 4-of-11 shooting in the first half. The Spartans compensated by collecting six offensive rebounds in the first half, including one critical possession in which they misfired on two consecutive tries before Appling finally sunk a three-pointer.
Those second-chance buckets proved crucial as Michigan State and Wisconsin shot the exact same percentage from both the field and three-point territory in the opening period.
Only a 10-2 run over the closing 3:42 anchored by Brust and Dekker could save the Badgers from escaping an even uglier loss in East Lansing, where they have now not earned a victory in more than eight years.
Their conference title hopes officially erased and only one game remaining in the regular season, Dekker suggested the double-digit loss may have been the wake-up call UW needed ahead of next week’s Big Ten tournament and the approaching NCAA tournament.
“In that hot streak we had just the past three weeks, we thought we were invincible and we were playing good basketball,” Dekker said. “It’s just a thing you get into when everything’s your way, it becomes easy.
“And now that we take two Ls here, things aren’t as easy for us now and we just have to be mature about it, we have to get back on the court and work 10 times as hard.”