The intensity level was high, especially on the defensive end as the Spartans defeated the Badgers 61-50 to improve to 21-5 overall and 11-3 in the Big Ten. The Badgers fell to 17-10 and 8-7 in conference play.
The key to the low-scoring affair was the way in which the Spartans played in the second half on both ends of the floor. The first half saw the Spartans commit 10 turnovers, many of those the result of Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes stepping in the passing lanes time after time.
Even when MSU didn't turn the ball over, their shots were not falling partly because they didn't run their sets effectively and rushed numerous shots.
"We looked like a dysfunctional group there for a half, and that was bothering me," MSU coach Tom Izzo said. "We did not show good shot selection or patience offensively, and that was kind of disappointing."
The Spartans began the half trailing by a score of 31-25. The Green & White scored the first four points of the half, but the Badgers answered with a 10-0 run, prompting Izzo to take a timeout, and that just so happened to be the turning point.
"This was probably one of our most intense huddles that we've had this season, but I think it paid off," MSU guard Travis Walton said. "He challenged me, he challenged 'G' (Goran Suton), he challenged Kalin (Lucas), but he got the best out of us."
He did get the best out of his players, because the Spartans looked like a different team when they walked back onto the court. The most glaring difference was where they attacked the Wisconsin defense, and that was in the paint.
Suton and freshman Delvon Roe caused absolute mayhem with their activity. Both players were effective on the glass as Roe pulled down 8 rebounds and Suton finished with 10.
Suton scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half as he connected on all six of his free throws, finished around the rim and, as usual, stepped out and stuck the mid-range jumper. Suton was fortunate that he finished the game so strongly, because Coach Izzo mentioned that he was not pleased with the way Suton played for the first 35 minutes.
Izzo was frustrated with Suton's shot selection, particularly the three triples that his center missed. The inconsistency that Suton displays is something that his coach is trying desperately to fix.
"'G's' got to bring it every minute of every game, and as happy as I am for him, don't think he's off the hook," Izzo explained. "He's got skills and ability to do a lot of things and somehow I'm gonna get that out of him in the next three weeks."
The defense was never that bad in this game, but the Badgers were forced into eight turnovers in the second half, in large part due to Coach Izzo's decision to start picking the Badgers up full court.
Walton's defense of Hughes and the aggressive nature of the man-to-man press knocked the Badgers out of sync, as the depth and energy of the Spartans started to change the tempo of the game.
"It was effective, because I think we did wear them down a little bit," Izzo said. "They got guys that play a lot of minutes. …We thought that was one of the things that we would try to do is wear them down a little bit."
The results of the press have some players wanting to apply it more often.
"We haven't played full court since, the beginning of the year," said Chris Allen, who finished with 8 points. "We see how effective it is, so definitely we want to see more of that."
Even with the win, a coach always notices the negatives a little bit more than everybody else and is already prepared to get to practice and straighten things out.
"Our defense has carried us here the last couple weeks other than at Purdue," explained Izzo. "We got to get better offensively now and that's what we're going to work on."
NOT THERE YET
Over the course of this season, Tom Izzo has always let his feelings be known as to what type of team he has and the potential they possess.
As he has said many times before, Coach Izzo doesn't think this talented group is playing at the level he thinks they need to in order to get to the Final Four.
"We have a bigger ceiling than where we are, and yet we have found a way to win 21 games," Izzo said. "Pretty soon we've got to get everybody back and we got to get some time so that they get some confidence in each other."
The team captain concurs with what his coach has to say.
"We got a lot of things to improve on," Walton stated. "To get to the Final Four, I've never been so I think it takes a lot of luck. It also takes a lot of getting better, and executing on the defensive end and the offensive end."
One of the surprises of the game was the Michigan State starting lineup and the presence of sophomore Tom Herzog.
Izzo started Herzog because the Flint native was the only Spartan not to play on Tuesday night against Purdue. Izzo felt hurt about the whole situation and decided to make the decision he felt was right.
The decision didn't hurt MSU as Herzog, who played the first three minutes, excited the crowd by scoring the first hoop of the game with a reverse lay-up.
"He gave us a boost," Izzo said. "I loved the way our players rallied around him. That was impressive. I've never seen our team so excited for a guy to start, which means we're growing a little bit, but we have a long way to go."
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