‘It’s big’: Michigan State sweats but survives vs. Wisconsin

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Wisconsin guard Brad Davison hangs his head as Michigan State players celebrate their victory.

New York – It’s not easy to beat a team three times in one season. Just ask Michigan State.

As the top-seeded Spartans took the floor at Madison Square Garden on Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, that’s exactly the scenario they were facing.

On the other side the of the court was Wisconsin, which Michigan State beat twice in the regular season, including on Sunday in Madison to clinch an outright conference championship.

That game last weekend was no piece of cake for Michigan State, which made just enough plays down the stretch to win by five points. That game served as a template on Friday as Wisconsin hung with the Spartans the entire way before a late 3-pointer from Matt McQuaid lifted Michigan State to a 63-60 victory.

“It's definitely tough,” Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges said of completing the three-game sweep. “Last year we played Minnesota three times, we lost the last game (in the conference tournament), and we definitely didn't want to do it this year.

“Wisconsin is a great team, too. Their record doesn't determine how good they are.”

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 63, Wisconsin 60

The victory did more than simply give the Spartans (29-3) their 13th straight victory. It sent them to the tournament semifinals where they’ll see a familiar foe – Michigan.

The Wolverines won the only matchup this season – an 82-72 victory in East Lansing. It happens to be the last time the Spartans have lost a game. Now, they’ll get a shot at a bit of redemption.

“If Michigan wins this game, we end up playing them, I definitely won't be disappointed to get another opportunity to go out there,” sophomore Cassius Winston said before Nebraska and Michigan tipped on Friday. “I definitely, myself, got an opportunity to go out there and play against them. I think I dropped the ball the last game.

“If we play Michigan, it's going to be a big rival game for the tournament to move on to the championship, but that's the type of game you live for.”

Before that, however, the Spartans had to take care of Wisconsin (15-18), which beat Maryland on Thursday and needed a win in the conference tournament to keep its streak of 19 consecutive NCAA Tournaments alive.

Bridges was far better than Sunday’s meeting, scoring 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds while Winston added 17 points. McQuaid scored just five points, but his triple with 1:28 to play gave the Spartans a five-point lead they would not relinquish.

“It big for us,” Bridges said. “It’s definitely a big confidence booster. Wisconsin, they’re a great team. They played us to the wire twice, so we’re happy to come out with the win.”

Ethan Happ scored 22 points for Wisconsin (15-18) while Brad Davison and Khalil Iverson scored 10 points each for the Badgers.

Davison was the big difference in the last meeting, scoring a career-high 30 points. On Friday, he was just 4-for-14 shooting.

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“Short here today and it ends on an extremely bitter note,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said, “but proud of how they’ve grown. Went toe-to-toe the last two games with Michigan State. Credit to Tom and his group. Made enough plays when they needed to and we didn't come up with enough rebounds when we needed to.”

Michigan State opened an early lead in the first half but Happ and Davison started making things happen offensively for the Badgers, who pulled ahead, 16-14, on a jumper from Davison and eventually extended the lead to 28-24 on a 3-pointer from Brevin Pritzl with 3:36 to play in the first half.

But Davison and Happ were also in foul trouble, and with the duo on the bench with two fouls each, the Spartans chipped away and retook the lead, 29-28, on a Bridges three with 2:31 to play. Two Bridges misses and a turnover followed, but Winston was able to hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds to give Michigan State a 32-28 lead heading to the locker room.

The Spartans scored first to open the second half, but with MSU leading 38-32, the Badgers went on a 10-0 run to take a 42-38 lead with 14:25 to play, getting two triples from freshman guard Aleem Ford. Michigan State responded with seven straight, including five from Bridges, to recapture the lead at 45-42 with 11:48 left in the game.

The teams battled back and forth before a 7-0 run from Michigan State gave the Spartans a 58-51 advantage with five minutes left in the game. However, the Badgers answered again and pulled within two before McQauid’s three.

Wisconsin had one final chance to tie the game after Bridges missed the front end of a one-and-one in the final seconds, but Davison’s desperation 3-pointer came up short.

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Michigan State now continues its postseason march feeling like it got an uneven performance out of the way without getting eliminated.

“I still don’t think we’ve played our best basketball,” Winston said. “I think there is a much better Michigan State team that we can reach and we just haven’t reached that yet. We haven’t clicked at the same time. It’s somebody this game, somebody that game. Once we figure it out and get five players going, eight players going we’re a dangerous team.”



No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Michigan

Tip-off: 2 p.m. Saturday, Madison Square Garden, New York

TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760, WWJ 950

Records: Michigan State 29-3, Michigan 26-7

Outlook: The Spartans, seeded No. 1 for the Big Ten tournament, and the Wolverines, seeded No. 5, meet for the second time this season, with a spot in the conference championship game at stake. Michigan won, 82-72, on Jan. 13 in East Lansing, with Moritz Wagner leading the way with a career-high 27 points.