INDIANAPOLIS — A slow start in an elimination game in the best conference in college basketball will nail your coffin before the halftime horn has even sounded. Just ask Wisconsin.
Adreian Payne scored 18 points and Branden Dawson picked up 14 with 7 boards in Michigan State’s 83-75 win over Wisconsin.
Frank Kaminsky led all scorers with 28 points while Ben Brust and Sam Dekker both pitched in 11, but the Badgers’ offense didn’t find its groove until the Spartans had already built a 21-point lead.
Michigan State opened the Big Ten Tournament semifinal with an aggressiveness that Wisconsin could not match and by the time found its edge, it was already too late.
“You could just see that they were setting the tone and they were being aggressors early on and we were kind of just stepping back and taking blows,” Dekker said. “If you want to win, especially in tournament time you have to come out firing, you got to come out being the aggressor.”
Adreian Payne picked up right where he left off in his last game against Wisconsin — 24 points Feb. 9 — hitting a three and a layup in the first minute to jumpstart Michigan State to a 7-0 lead.
With Payne setting the tone right from the get-go, Michigan State would own the first half going on four separate runs of at least seven points and building 21-point lead with less than six minutes left in the first half.
“I thought we played some of our best basketball of the year in that first five minutes, and we built a pretty good lead,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
The Badgers were able to contest a number of shots in the Spartans half-court offense, but MSU was able to get the tough shots to go down and once it started making those everything else became much easier.
“It makes the more difficult shots seem easier, when you start getting some confidence and motivation,” Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard said.
Anyone not named Kaminsky in a Wisconsin uniform couldn’t get the ball in the basket. Through the first 20 minutes, Kaminsky was the only Badger to have more than five points (12) as UW would head to the locker room shooting 28 percent from the floor.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan State seemingly could not miss. Through the first 10 minutes of play, the Spartans missed only two of their 12 shots and would finish the first half with a 65.4 shooting percentage.
“When you dig yourself that big of a hole, then you have to play almost a perfect second half,” Gard said.
Wisconsin would play like a completely different team in the second half, but it wasn’t perfect.
Payne picked up his third foul less than three minutes into the second half, forcing him to the bench for nearly 10 minutes.
With the Spartans’ defensive enforcer watching from his seat, Kaminsky took charge of the Badgers’ offense and the rest of his team followed suit.
The result was Wisconsin matching its first half scoring total (26) just over 10 minutes into the second half, but scoring wasn’t the problem for the Badgers.
Anytime Wisconsin would try to string together a few scores and generate a run, Michigan State would answer.
“We didn’t make the decisions we needed to make in order to get our defensive players in the half court position,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said.
A majority of the Spartans’ scores in the second half would come on transition plays that turned into a quick outlet pass to someone who was wide open.
“They do a really good job of fast breaking and getting the ball up the court,” Badgers point guard Traevon Jackson said. “They really make your tandem — the guys who try to get back — they make that useless because of how good they pass and they spread the floor with shooters so you try to go out there and it’s already to late.”
Wisconsin’s offense efficiency in the second half would bring them within single digits of a once 20-plus point deficit, but Michigan State would break, taking advantage of several second chance opportunities on its offensive end of the floor that would keep the Badgers’ comeback at bay.
Coming so close on more than one occasion in the second half, and then having it immediately taken away, would take a toll on Wisconsin.
“You feel like you are getting back into it and then they take a shot, it bounces off someone’s hands and goes into theirs and there’s a scrap on the floor and they pick it up and get an And-1. It’s plays like that that kind of sting the heart a little bit,” Dekker said.
Wisconsin brought it within seven with 3:45 left in the game, but the Spartans converted on each of its offensive possessions and time would ultimately run out on the Badgers’ hopes of a come back.
As poorly as UW performed in the first half, it would respond by nearly doubling its first-half point total in the second half and shooting 60 percent from the floor. But a productive half and a nonexistent half don’t equal wins this time of year.
“In a game like this in this type of environment, you get to this point in the season you can’t play 20 minutes you have to play 40. The next time it happens we’ll put away the uniforms for good,” Gard said.
Now the Badgers will have only one more chance to learn from a their mistakes before another misstep will mean the end of their season.
“That’s a Final Four type of team,” Jackson said of MSU. “We see what type of team we’ll have to go up against and what teams are going to do to us. So, we have to be able to counter that and learn from that. If we don’t we’ll be going home early.”