Up by eight with less than three minutes to go at Wisconsin, it looked like the Spartans were about to reverse some serious Big Ten trends.
The Badgers had reeled off 37 straight home wins and had beaten Michigan State five straight times.
But then Michigan State lost its poise ... or Wisconsin grew in stature. Either way, something very painful happened to the Spartans — and their losing ways continued against Wisconsin.
Michigan State ended up losing 62-59, and the Spartans had their chances. They are the No. 1 free-throw shooting team in the nation — they have made 80.7 percent of their shots from the free-throw line — but they missed two 1-and-1 opportunities in the final minutes.
Coach Tom Izzo did not look at the game as a season-defining moment — at least not publicly. He credited Wisconsin with playing extremely well when it counted.
"They played better down the stretch," Izzo said. "There is no jinx. There is no this and that. I've been beaten by better teams and by worse teams. We'll win more than we're going to lose. I can guarantee you that."
In addition to getting beaten down the stretch, the Spartans did not play the kind of tenacious defense that Izzo wants to see. They gave the Badgers plenty of open looks from beyond the arc and they hit 7-of-14 three-pointers in the second half.
— The Spartans are the No.1 free-throw shooting team in the nation, connecting on 80.7 percent of their shots from the line. However, in the 62-59 loss at Wisconsin, the Spartans missed two 1-and-1 opportunities in the final two minutes when the game was on the line.
— Michigan State is averaging 84.4 ppg, the best mark in the Big Ten.
— The Spartans are averaging 18.9 assists per game, which is the second-best mark in the Big Ten behind Illinois.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Chris Hill, Guard Maurice Ager, center Paul Davis, guard Shannon Brown, forward Alan Anderson.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't buy that. These kids have been beaten on, run over, spit on, you name it. They've had everything thrown at them over the last three years and they've responded by working even harder. And that's why I really can't complain because they've done everything that I've asked of them. ... I'm going to stay oddly positive with this group." — Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, in the Detroit Free Press, on the suggestion that his team simply lacks the heart and toughness to compete with solid teams like Wisconsin. Michigan State has dropped six straight games to the Badgers.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Minnesota, Jan. 22.
KEYS: Will there be a hangover after getting beaten down the stretch by Wisconsin?
ROSTER REPORT: Here's one that hurts — Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is 0-6 against Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan.
— Guard Shannon Brown is hitting 90.8 percent from the free throw line. That ranks him ninth in the nation.
— Center Paul Davis is averaging a team-high 13.6 ppg and connecting on 61.5 percent of his shots from the floor.
About MSU: Free Throws No Problem
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