The Badgers had lost three of their last four matchups, making Sunday’s contest with Michigan State a virtual must-win game. The last place they would want to go in a must-win situation is East Lansing, a place that Wisconsin hasn’t left victorious since 2004. After Wisconsin battled back following an opening punch from Michigan State, Tom Izzo’s squad was able to control the second half on their way to an 84-74 victory.
Wisconsin was down 77-70 with just over a minute left and Bronson Koenig missed two exceptional looks from beyond the arc – that was the end of the Badgers’ hopes. Koenig finished just 1/9 from the three point line.
Nigel Hayes was outstanding, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds. He was dominant in the paint, either finishing or drawing contact. For how good he was, however, finishing 4/12 from the free throw line was simply not good enough in a close game.
As a team, Wisconsin shot 11/23 from the charity stripe. Conversely, MSU shot 21/23 from the free throw line and salted the game in the final minutes.
The loss leaves the Badgers continuing to spiral downwards over the last month, losing five of their last six, including their second consecutive loss by double-digits. Wisconsin is now a full game behind Purdue in the loss column.
Nick Ward was a monster in East Lansing. As he went, the Spartans went and were able to build their lead up to 13 points during the first 20 minutes. Ward terrorized the Badgers in multiple ways. He controlled the offensive boards and scored off of put backs. Ward also ran the floor extremely well and glided down the middle of the paint for easy dunks as the Badger defense was nowhere to be found.
The Spartans carved up Wisconsin’s number one-ranked Big Ten defense. MSU’s 84 point performance was the most UW’s defense has given up all year, tied with Marquette back in December. Michigan State’s bench scored 30 points after getting huge days from Matt McQuaid and Cassius Winston. Matt McQuaid more than doubled his 5.1 PPG scoring average in the first half. McQuaid, feared for his ability beyond the arch, had multiple and-one finishes and other nice finishes close to the rim. He ended with 15 points. Winston played a solid all-around game, totaling 10 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
Michigan State jumped out on the Badgers for most of the first half, but the Badgers were able to narrow the deficit to just one point before halftime after a Zak Showalter three right before the buzzer sounded. The Badgers, on the verge of letting the game get out of hand, showed some toughness and poise in the final minutes of the first half to get back in the game. Wisconsin went on a 9-0 run for nearly the final three minutes of the half.
Zak Showalter was instrumental in keeping the Badgers hang close. He had three first-half threes, including the one at the buzzer, and led the Badgers in scoring with 11 points during the first half. He was also active on the defensive end with two steals, including one that led to a breakaway layup for Showalter.
The Badgers gave up too many runs, however, to ever be a serious threat to Michigan State. Wisconsin never got closer than when they were down 52-50 following a Hayes lay-in, but then gave up an 11-3 run over the course of a few minutes.
Ward was on the bench for an extended stretch with foul trouble during the first half, but Miles Bridges, a future lottery pick in June’s draft, became the Batman instead of Robin with Ward out. Bridges finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, and 12 of those points came in the second half.
Wisconsin will look to right the ship on Thursday against Iowa.