'It was a war': No. 11 Michigan State claws way to road win over No. 20 Wisconsin
Madison, Wis. — Michigan State entered Tuesday night’s game at Wisconsin a game out of first place, looking to add a road victory that would, at the very least, keep it in the hunt for a championship while continuing to build its resume.
By the end of the night, the Spartans had a bit more than that. They got the big win, a gritty 67-59 victory over Wisconsin. But thanks to a wild night in the Big Ten, Michigan State found itself in a tie for first place with Michigan and even in the loss column with Purdue after the Wolverines were upset at Penn State and the Boilermakers lost at Maryland.
With a little more than three weeks to play in the regular season, the championship is up for grabs and No. 11 Michigan State (20-5, 11-3 Big Ten) is right in the thick of it thanks to knocking off No. 20 Wisconsin for its second straight win after dropping three in a row.
“It was a war,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s a tough place to play … but I think our defense, to hold them to 21 points in the second half, outrebound them and get back to the things that have won us games I think was critical.”
Those things included controlling the glass — Michigan State outrebounded Wisconsin, 40-28 — getting out on the break and playing tough defense.
Junior guard Cassius Winston led the way, scoring 23 points and handing out six assists while limiting Wisconsin’s D’Mitrik Trice to 1-for-6 shooting. Kenny Goins and Nick Ward each scored 12 points while Goins had nine rebounds.
Winston sparked a decisive 12-0 run early in the second half that turned a six-point deficit into a six-point lead.
“We found that zone,” Winston said. “Winning time. That’s what we do, make wining plays, rebound get stops, things like that.”
It wasn’t over after that run as the Badgers turned to their player of the year candidate, Ethan Happ. He scored six straight to pull Wisconsin back to even with 9:40 to play but missed six free throws in the second half. Happ scored 20 on 10-for-20 shooting but didn’t get much help as only Nate Reuvers also reached double figures, scoring 11 for the Badgers (17-8, 9-5).
“We couldn’t let their guards beat us,” Winston said. “Happ is gonna get 20 points regardless. That’s what he does for that team. But we take away those guards and that’s another 20 or so points they usually score. We did a good job playing their tendencies and not letting them get off the 3-point line.”
The pace was exactly what Michigan State was hoping for in the first half as the Spartans took an early lead by getting out on the break. A Ward dunk on a feed from Winston was followed by a Winston dish to Kyle Arhens to give the Spartans a 15-12 lead with 10:53 left in the half.
“He followed the game plan to a T,” Izzo said of Ward. “That’s hard to put him isolated on a guy down there as good as Happ. Holding him to 10-of-20 was pretty good and Nick, at same time, scored some buckets early.”
The Badgers managed to pull even and took advantage a flagrant 1 foul on Matt McQuaid to get the first momentum swing of the game. McQuaid was called for grabbing the jersey of Brevin Pritzl, who made two free throws then nailed a 3-poitner from the corner for a five-point possession.
The lead eventually grew to 32-25 before Michigan State grabbed the momentum, scoring eight straight and going on an 11-2 run that featured three straight 3-pointers, one from Ahrens and a pair from Winston. A couple of jumpers from Wisconsin’s Kobe King gave the Badgers a 38-37 lead headed to the locker room.
Wisconsin scored the first five points of the second half to open a six-point lead, one that disappeared almost as quickly as Michigan State scored the next seven to take a 44-43 lead and capped the 12-0 run with a Goins 3-pointer to go up 49-43.
After Happ’s answer, it was back-and-forth played out from there as Wisconsin went to Happ on nearly every possession. With the game tied at 53, Winston buried a deep 3 over Happ, which answered with another jump hook. Goins split a pair of free throws to put MSU up 57-55 with 5:39 to play.
After Brad Davison split a pair of free throws, freshman Aaron Henry hit a jumper from near the free-throw line to give the Spartans a 59-56 lead with 2:20 left in the game. A late triple from Goins put the game away for the Spartans.
“It just felt like we were playing like ourselves again and that’s big,” Winston said of the last two games. “Playing at that pace, playing with confidence, playing as a team. If we carry that over we’re a hard team to beat.”
And about that Big Ten race?
“I think they come hand in hand,” Winston said. “Us playing back to our standard, getting back to our capability is probably most important just because of our future goals, but I’m pretty sure (playing well and competing for the conference title) go hand in hand.”