The Spartans stick it to the Badgers 60-51 in a 59-possessions game. StatSheet box score.
Let’s start with what still worries me after this game: Three-point shooting. MSU made just 2 of 9 attempts from beyond the arc, with both makes coming in the final minutes of the game. That’s our fourth straight game with 3 or fewer 3-point makes. That’s not sustainable. Ultimately, we have to have a couple 3-point shooting threats to keep defenses honest. Otherwise, you have to execute with near perfection to create good looks near the basket.
The good news? We did execute with near perfection for the final 12 minutes of today’s game. Here are some of the stats from the second half:
- 12-19 two-point shooting vs. 2-8 for Wisconsin.
- An 18-10 advantage on the boards.
- An 8-4 advantage in turnovers.
Combined with the (much less stellar) first half stats, you get this:
I thought MSU’s defense was very good for all 40 minutes. There were a few lapses that lead to open 3-point looks for the Badgers, but for the most part MSU stayed in front of the Badgers and forced them to try to create shots one on one late in the shot clock. Take away the 10 or so points we gave Wisconsin on bad turnovers and free throws off MSU fouls on the offensive end, and the Badgers’ offensive stats would look even more anemic.
Despite only scoring 2 points, Travis Walton made huge contributions on both ends of the court–particularly in the final 12 minutes. He made 4 steals, leading the defensive pressure that flustered Wisconsin and helped turn the momentum to our advantage in the second half. And he had 6 assists against zero turnovers. That play Izzo ran three straight trips down the court with Walton sprinting through screens like Drew Neitzel was bizarre to watch, but it worked, as Walton made superb entry passes to Goran Suton to create easy baskets.
Suton was a warrior. After not starting the game (apparently to reward Tom Herzog–he of the graceful reverse layup–for his hard work in practice), Suton posted 16 points and 10 rebounds–most of them in the second half. He pulled down a couple huge offensive rebounds, as did Raymar Morgan (5 rebounds in 17 minutes), during the comeback from 12 down. Give Suton credit for keeping his composure after the airballed 3-pointer (his third 3-point miss of the game) and leading the team to victory.
Kalin Lucas added another Player-of-the-Year performance to his resume’, scoring 17 points on 8-14 FG shooting. (It seemed like Izzo sat him for a couple long stretches, but the box score says he played 34 minutes.) In a defensive struggle, Lucas was one of only two players on either team (Delvon Roe was the other) to make more than half of his FG attempts.
Finally, let’s talk about Chris Allen. All game, my brother-in-law and I wanted Allen to just shoot the ball when he first caught the ball behind the 3-point line. Instead, he’d put in on the floor and allow the defense to adjust. When he did finally shoot a 3-pointer directly off the pass, he nailed it. Maybe this game can be the start of Allen’s resurgence: 8 points on 7 FG attempts and 4 assists in 23 minutes. Hard to believe he only turned it over once, though, as he looked shaky with the ball on numerous occasions.
This was an enormous win. When Marcus Landry hit the 3-pointer to put Wisconsin up 12, I thought we were done. A loss would have been a huge psychological blow. But I underestimated this team’s resilience. All season, they’ve shown the uncanny ability to score points in the clutch. Of our five losses, 3 were blowouts and 2 were the result of giving up too many points late (many of them of the fluky kind)–not a result of scoring too few points.
This game doesn’t make up for the Big Ten Tournament loss last year–but it helps. And, just maybe, this win will be the difference in winning a Big Ten championship (or winning it outright).
Next up: A home game against Iowa Wednesday night (8:30, BTN).
P.S. Blake and GBBound tied for the DVD, both picking Lucas to score 17 points. Given my current state of exuberance, I can’t stand the thought of denying the prize to either of them. So they both win. I’ll have to come up with another prize for one of the postseason contests. Send me your mailing addresses, sirs.