EAST LANSING, Mich. — Sunday was an afternoon of comebacks for the Michigan State Spartans, as the 1979 national champion team came back for a 30th anniversary celebration, while the 2009 squad came back from a 12-point deficit to defeat Wisconsin 61-50.
The Badgers (17-10) led 41-29 after forward Marcus Landry hit a 3-pointer at 12:31 in the second half. However, UW would not score another field goal for over 11 minutes, during which MSU (21-5) went on a 17-4 run to take a 47-45 lead. Head coach Bo Ryan cited the drought as the reason Wisconsin was unable to hold their lead.
“I thought when they were making their run — which you know teams are going to do, especially at home — you need to get a bucket in there. … Maybe if they score two, you need to get one,” Ryan said.
The Badgers that took the court looked a lot like the team that endured a six-game losing streak in January. Once again they entered half with a lead, but were unable to hold it and ultimately lost the game in the last four minutes. UW led MSU for all but 2:32 in the first half, due mainly to a plus-seven turnover differential. Despite shooting only 33 percent for the first half, the Badgers finished it with five steals and a 12-4 edge in points off turnovers.
The second half became another story entirely. Wisconsin actually shot worse in the second half and finished the game with a 31.3 field goal percentage. The Spartans meanwhile shot almost 52 percent, as well as outrebounded the Badgers 37-25. MSU’s 13 offensive rebounds translated into 15 second-chance points, which was bothersome for UW guard Trevon Hughes.
“It was definitely frustrating. … We’re out there battling and fighting, it was a physical game,” Hughes said. “And every time we force a bad shot, they get a second chance to get a good shot.”
Hughes should be credited for keeping the Badgers in the game during the first 20 minutes. He led the team with 10 first-half points, as well as making three big steals. The guard seemed to get a hand on every ball near him, and by forcing turnovers, he was able to partially make up for UW’s shooting woes.
“They only made 15 field goals and of those 15 … there were three breakaway layups in the first half because we said, ‘Here, take the ball, go down and lay it up and we’ll sit here and watch,'” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said of his team’s first-half turnovers.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, the Spartans became much less generous with the ball during the second half. MSU forced UW into eight turnovers over the last 20 minutes while only committing four itself. Izzo stressed the need for his players to be tougher in the second half if they were to come back and win.
“I’ve been telling them all year, ‘You guys are too fragile, so we’re taking the gloves off,'” Izzo said. “And to be honest with you, that’s what we did. Everybody’s got to do what they got to do to get their point across. … I was not very pleased by the way we were playing.”
Izzo’s point was well-received by his players, who did not give the Badgers very many opportunities to drive to the basket. MSU held an 18-4 edge over UW in points in the paint, and as the game went on, openings to the rim became few and far between for Wisconsin. The Spartans’ defensive pressure forced the Badgers into taking bad shots and turnovers, sealing the loss.
“I think we tried to make some great passes rather than good passes, and we didn’t finish on our shots,” Ryan said. “And they turned it up defensively.”
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Badgers, who next face Michigan at home.