Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was impressed with Wisconsin as the Badgers jumped on the Spartans early and hand MSU another road loss. The Detroit News


Madison, Wis. — While it was another frustrating day on the road for Michigan State, there were some impressive signs from Rocket Watts.

The freshman guard was the lone first-half bright spot, nailing three 3-pointers to keep Wisconsin from completely running away before halftime. And Watts was again a factor in the second half, helping spark a 17-2 run that allowed the Spartans to pull within three midway through the second half before the Badgers ultimately held on for the 64-63 victory Saturday.

“My best players really struggled (in the first half),” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “Thank God for Rocket and thank God for Malik (Hall), my two freshmen.”

Hall’s contributions didn’t have quite the same impact as those from Watts, who finished with a career-high 16 points while making four 3-pointers, also a career best.

Things got rolling for Watts late in the first half when he nailed his first triple to cut the Wisconsin lead to 11. He hit another 3-pointer a little more than a minute later and after the Badgers pushed their lead to 19 — their largest of the game — Watts and Aaron Henry hit back-to-back 3-pointers to stem the tide.

“Yeah, of course,” Watts said when asked if he knew his team needed an offensive spark. “I shot the ball well and stuff like that, so yeah, for sure.”

As Michigan State made its second-half push, Watts was again the catalyst as the Spartans used a 17-2 run to pull within three at 50-47.

Watts got things started with his fourth 3-pointer then later hit a running jumper in the lane. A quick first step off the dribble a possession later allowed Watts to score an uncontested layup as the momentum was shifting to Michigan State.

“It was huge,” senior Cassius Winston said of Watts’ play. “He kept us in it. There were a lot of instances where it could have really gotten out of hand and he’d hit a shot. He hit some big shots to kind of keep us in it.”

It was the latest step in the maturation of Watts, who was back in the starting lineup on Saturday as Gabe Brown was limited because he’d been sick the past few days.

For Watts, though, the game offered some direction for where he and the Spartans go from here.

“I need to be more aggressive early,” Watts said, “and for the team to come out focused in the beginning. We keep doing the same things over and over you know. We play away games and the other team gets hot and they get up on us by a lot before we come back. We’ve got to learn how to execute in crunch time.”

Sick note

Brown had been under the weather the past few days and it ultimately kept him from having any sort of significant role on Saturday.

He did not start but entered the game midway through the first half. He managed just one shot and grabbed one rebound in 3:09 of action. It turned out to be the only time Brown would get in the game.

“Gabe was sicker than a dog the last two days,” Izzo said. “So he just couldn't go.”

Slam dunks

Michigan State had won eight straight games in the series, including the last two at the Kohl Center.

The last time the Spartans lost was in January 2016. Wisconsin knocked off No. 4 Michigan State, 77-76, in coach Greg Gard’s first game against the Spartans.

… Winston scored 23 points to bring his career total to 1,794, moving him past Terry Furlow and into eighth place on Michigan State’s all-time scoring list.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau