The Spartans fell to Wisconsin yesterday 68-66, their fifth straight loss to the Badgers, who have clearly stamped themselves as the team to beat in the Big Ten.
For the Spartans the loss was another bitter pill in a season full of bad medicine. For a team that has taken pride over the last decade in winning close games down the stretch, they can't seem to win any that way anymore.
This time it was sophomore guard Maurice Ager, junior forward Paul Davis and junior guard Kelvin Tobert all missing from inside 15 feet with the game on the line. That doomed the Spartans to a titleless season.
You couldn't blame MSU if they elected to skip this event altogether.
Since winning the Big Ten tournament in 1999-2000 season en route to their NCAA championship season, the Spartans haven't made it to the finals since.
MSU came into this game vowing to avenge a 64-66 loss to the Badger on their home court that took away a chance to win the Big Ten regular season title. In that game, MSU star Paul Davis seized up with cramps in both legs and was unable to stand, let alone play effectively after the game went into overtime.
This time it was Maurice Ager who had a chance to sent the game into overtime when he got a great look from just outside the free throw line. "I don't think I could have gotten a better look," Ager said. "It just [rimmed] out. Every time I shoot the ball, I feel it can go it. It just didn't work out that way."
MSU's junior led squad continues to struggle collectively at the end of games. Kelvin Torbert missed a wide open attempt from 12 feet that would have given the Spartans the lead with 4.8 seconds remaining. Paul Davis who scored 16 missed a 14 footer from the left circle that would have also given MSU the lead with just under 42 seconds in the contest.
The Spartans never looked to freshman Shannon Brown who scored 15 points and appeared to be the player most likely to step up in crunch time. MSU has not developed a "go-to" guy who can step up with the game on the line. That appears to be the biggest difference between these two evenly matched clubs that are headed in different directions.
Wisconsin knows exactly who's getting the ball in crunch time. "Toward the end of the game, if I get open looks, I'm going to take it," said Wisconsin's leader, guard Devin Harris. "But I'm not going to force anything."
He didn't have too.
The Badgers just played fundamental defense and watched as MSU's key players clanked shot after shot. While the Badger will play Illinois for the Big Ten title and possibly as high as a two seed in the NCAA tournament, MSU can't expect anything from the committee except an at large berth.
MSU hasn't beaten anyone worth mentioning this year, save a home win vs. the Illini. No one wants to hear any whining out of the East Lansing camp about their seed this year.
They just ought to be thankful that they're getting an invite.