After a raucous week for the Badgers, Wisconsin put the distractions behind them and pulled off a 64-63 upset over 14th-ranked Michigan St. A great first half offensively and defensively opened up a 16-point halftime lead and great crunch time defense was enough to hold off the Spartans.
Greg Gard’s nightmare week began on Monday with a crushing loss at Iowa. The Badgers led the entire second half until they gave up the lead with less than two minutes remaining and lost. Then, on Thursday, Kobe King announced that he is leaving Wisconsin and hoping to transfer. Later that day it was announced by the Big Ten that Brad Davidson was suspended for today’s game after they determined a flagrant foul in the Iowa game was a dirty play.
Much criticism was pointed at Gard after King’s decision to leave. Miami Heat rookie Tyler Herro, who was born and raised in Wisconsin, tweeted “the states top talent would love to play for Wisconsin, but not in that system.” Many called for Gard to be fired at the end of the season, citing the King situation as a prime example of why he’ll never have success at Wisconsin. There were audible boos at the Kohl Center when Gard was announced pregame.
“[I read] that there was somebody over here that asked Gard because of the recent incidents, ‘is your program in disarray?’” Tim Izzo said after the game. “I’m happy for Gard… we got our ass kicked today by a team that played for their coach, played for their school and played for each other… they deserved to win.”
Impressively, the Badgers were able to ignore the drama and played well from the start. Brevin Pritzl and Tyler Wahl started in place of Davidson and King. Wisconsin’s defense stifled the Spartans early on, holding them to just six points in the first eight minutes of the contest. Meanwhile, Nate Reuvers shined in the first half offensively, going 4-4 from the field for 13 points.
The Badgers stout defense continued throughout the first half, holding Michigan St. to just 27 points. Wisconsin crowded the paint and suffocated the interior, and the Spartans couldn’t get anything going from beyond the arc. Wisconsin led 43-27 at half.
When the second half began, the energy in the building felt like the Badgers might just run away with this one. The first half may have been their best half of basketball this season and they were with confidence and chemistry. The Spartans had other plans. Michigan St.’s jump shots finally started to fall and the Badger’s hot first half shooting was nowhere to be found.
Over the first 8:34 of the second half, Michigan St. out scored Wisconsin 20-7, cutting the lead to three. The Badgers had an over six minute scoring drought.
With 9:38 remaining, the score remained 50-47 Badgers. D’Mitrik Trice hit a rolling Micah Potter with a dime in the lane, setting Potter up for an emphatic dunk. The Kohl Center exploded, and the Badgers snapped back into shape. They never again shot like they had in the first half but they suddenly fixed every other facet of the game.
Down the stretch Wisconsin reverted back to their defense from the first half. They clogged the lane and rebounded the ball very well. Offensively, timely threes from Aleem Ford and solid decision making was enough. They took care of the and made their free throws, icing the Spartans. After Michigan St. scored six points in the final eleven seconds after the game was effectively over, the final score was 64-63.
“Proud of our guy,” Gard said. “The guys in that locker room really embrace and appreciate and understand what it means to wear that Wisconsin jersey.”