MSU shuts down Hayes in 'big win' over Wisconsin
East Lansing — It had been more than a month since Wisconsin lost a game, and Michigan State felt like it had played a big part in the seven-game winning streak the Badgers brought to Breslin Center Thursday night.
The first victory of that string came over the Spartans on Jan. 17, and it was the duo of Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig that combined for 52 points in Wisconsin’s one-point win that night.
The Spartans were determined to avoid a repeat defensive performance on Thursday, and in the process, ended Wisconsin’s streak and left themselves a slight glimmer of hope in the Big Ten race with a 69-57 victory.
“That was a big win against a very good team,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “They’re playing so much better than the first time we played and I think we won a game the way you need to win a game when it gets to the end of the year.”
Denzel Valentine flirted with a triple-double once again, scoring 24 points, handing out 10 assists and grabbing seven rebounds. Bryn Forbes scored 17, while shooting 4-for-8 from 3-point range, while Eron Harris added 10 points for the Spartans (22-5, 9-5 Big Ten).
But it was the outstanding defense that really stole the show, including the effort of freshman Deyonta Davis on Hayes, who entered the game averaging 17.1 points. Against the 6-foot-10 Davis, Hayes was limited to five points on 1-for-13 shooting and had the Breslin Center crowd taunting him most of the night and cheering for him to check back into the game.
“I heard the crowd and it looked like he was getting frustrated,” said Davis, who had three blocks to go with six points and nine rebounds. “So I kept doing what I was doing.”
In the first meeting, Hayes shot 50 percent from the field and wasn’t exactly complimentary of Davis.
“No disrespect to him, but it's not tough with him guarding me,” Hayes said that day in Madison.
Davis said he saw that comment, and it motivated him the second time around.
“I saw that on Twitter,” Davis said. “Somebody sent me that and I fed off that.”
With Hayes neutralized, Koenig was equally frustrated by Harris, whom Valentine called Michigan State’s defensive MVP. Koenig finished with 12 points, but he had only three in the first half and most of his damage was done with the game out of reach.
“I’m really proud of the defense we played,” Izzo said. “It got our break going early and we got some running. We executed better with the ball screens against a team that usually runs you off the 3-point line and it freed Forbes some.
“Our defense was unbelievable at times.”
Ethan Happ was the most effective weapon for the Badgers (16-10, 8-5), scoring 18 points.
While Michigan State’s defense has made a remarkable turnaround from mid-January when it allowed Wisconsin to get to the free-throw line 36 times — the Badgers were 11-for-17 on Thursday — the offense continues to hum.
Valentine was only three rebounds short of a triple-double and became the first Big Ten player in 20 years to score 20 points and hand out 10 assists in three straight games.
“I think we have everything,” Valentine said. “We can pick and pop, go down low with DD and Matt (Costello). We’ve got shooters with Bryn and me, slashers with Eron and myself. We have a little bit of everything, and Tum Tum (Nairn) pushing it in transition and making plays for everybody. So it’s a little bit of everything that makes us deadly on offense.”
That offense was on display for most of the first half as Michigan State was in control until the final two minutes. The Spartans built their biggest lead of the half at 32-16 following two straight jumpers from Valentine. But after Happ missed on a drive to the hoop, the rebound came off and the teams scrambled for the ball. It ended up in the hands of Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter, who found Alex Illikainen all alone in the corner for a 3-pointer.
The basket sparked a 7-0 run to close the half for the Badgers, who trailed by nine at the break as the Spartans missed their last four shots.
It didn’t take long for Michigan State to regain the 16-point lead early in the second half behind a pair of 3-pointers form Forbes and Harris, followed by a dunk from Costello in transition and a three-point play from Forbes.
The Spartans extended the lead to 48-31 less than three minutes later when Forbes hit another 3-pointer, and took their largest lead of 59-37 with 6:44 to play on Valentine’s end-to-end rush that ended with a one-handed dunk.
“I thought they (the Spartans) were dialed in from the start,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “Early we dug ourselves a hole that we couldn’t quite get out of. We tried to claw back, but then we would make a mistake, whether it was on the glass or the perimeter. Obviously, Michigan State is playing really well right now.”