In what was a close fought battle most of the way, the No. 20 University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (17-8, 9-5 Big Ten) fell to the No. 11 Michigan State Spartans (20-5, 11-3) at the Kohl Center Tuesday night by a score of 67–59.
The Badgers let the game slip away in the final minutes with poor shooting and defense, giving Michigan State a surplus of opportunities to seal the game.
The game was still within Wisconsin’s reach with under a minute to go, but after a failed defensive assignment allowed Michigan State’s Kenny Goins to sink a wide open three to give the Spartans a 62–56 lead with 32 seconds to go, the Badgers had foiled their chances of winning.
The Badgers couldn’t seem to get anything to go their way early on, shooting just 8-for-22 from the field and 2-for-7 from three to go with four turnovers in the game’s first 12 minutes. Wisconsin followed up the cold spell with a 14–4 run that featured seven points from Brevin Pritzl, five of which came in a single possession after a flagrant foul was called on Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid. Pritzl made two free throws and then nailed a three-pointer to give the Kohl Center a burst of energy.
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But Michigan State quickly responded, going on an 11-2 run of their own to take back the lead. Wisconsin led 38–37 heading into the break in what ended up being a high-scoring half.
In the second half, the Badgers struggled to establish an offensive rhythm and would not take back the lead after the 17-minute mark in the second half.
The Spartans were able to neutralize the Wisconsin backcourt in the second half, preventing Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice from getting open looks on the perimeter. Nate Reuvers netted three 3-pointers, but was unable to find a rhythm late.
As has been the case many times in the past, the Badgers were forced to lean on Happ late Tuesday.
But in front a “sea of red” crowd at the Kohl Center, Happ’s free-throw shooting woes continued. He went 0-for-6 from the stripe and committed five turnovers in the second half to give the Spartans momentum down the stretch. Wisconsin shot 1 of 8 from the free-throw line in the second half, a deciding factor in the loss.
“We have to be more complete when we get to the free throw line, get the ball to a high percentage area and be able to complete that. We weren’t able to do that,” Head Coach Greg Gard said.
Happ notched another double-double, finishing with 20 points to go with 12 rebounds. Reuvers had 11 points, while Davison scored nine points on just 3 of 12 shooting (2-for-8 from 3).
Happ’s 20 points put him at 2,000 for his career as he became the fourth player in Big Ten history to record 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in their career. Happ is the first conference player to accomplish that in more than 35 years.
Michigan State star Cassius Winston led all scorers with 23 points to go with six rebounds and six assists for the Spartans, out-dueling Happ in a showdown between two of the Big Ten’s premier players. Goins and forward Nick Ward each added 12 points.
In addition to the stout defensive showing, Michigan State out-rebounded Wisconsin 40-28.
“I think our defense, holding them to 21 points in the second half, rebounds, getting back to the things that have won us games, I think was critical,” Spartan Head Coach Tom Izzo said.
The Badgers have now lost two in a row after a six-game win streak. Wisconsin closes their regular season with six Big Ten games, four of which will come against teams with losing records in conference play.
Next, Wisconsin will take on Illinois Feb. 18 at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin beat Illinois in Champaign earlier this season, 72–60, behind a career night from Reuvers.