Punch to the Title Gut

No.15 Wisconsin prides itself on lockdown defense but when it had some kinks in the armor in the first half, No.7 Michigan State pounced. The result was 15 fast-break points in the first half that the Badgers never recovered from, resulting in a 14-point loss and a huge blow to its Big Ten title hopes.

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Whichever snapshot you pick to accurately describe the embarrassment Wisconsin put itself through on Thursday night, the photo would tell the whole story.

Would it be the play when Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans fought each other for an offensive rebound – miscommunication that allowed Keith Appling to simply rip the ball from Evans' grasp and draw a foul? Or would it be the shots of Michigan State ending three straight possessions with a three-point play after crashing the lane?

Whatever you pick, it told the whole story: it was ugly.

The aggressors from the opening tip, Michigan State used its stingy defense to poke holes in UW's transition defense to turn an expected wire-to-wire battle into a 69-55 drubbing in front of 14,797 at the Breslin Center that was basically over by halftime.

"As a team, I think we were overpowered," said Evans, one of the few bright spots for Wisconsin offensively. "We had a lot of turnovers (10 total). They got more aggressive. We didn't respond. That was the main thing … Our minds weren't ready for it."

As a result, No.15 Wisconsin (19-7, 8-5 Big Ten) missed a golden opportunity to move a game back of first place Ohio State in the Big Ten with five games remaining. It also lost its opportunity to control its own face in the conference race by being swept in the regular season by No.7 Michigan State (21-5, 10-3) for the first time since 2001.

It's also the second time this season Wisconsin has got its doors blown off this season and, ironically, both have come in the state of Michigan.

"They did a good job of keeping their foot on the gas," said Jordan Taylor, "and we did a really poor job of getting in that situation in the first place."

Evans led Wisconsin with 17 points and Taylor – who averaged 24.3 points in his last four meetings against the Spartans – scored 13 points, his 16th consecutive double-digit scoring game, but shot only 3 of 13, including 1 of 7 in the first half and 1 of 6 from three-point range.

The Badgers did become only the third opponent to out rebound Michigan State, 33-30, this season and made all 14 of their free throws, but shot 7 of 22 (31.8 percent), including 1 of 9 3-pointers (11.1 percent), in the first half and went 18 of 53 (34.0 percent) overall and 5 of 24 from 3-point range (20.8 percent) overall.

Draymond Green led the Spartans with 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists (his 14th double-double of the season) and converted 17 of his 13 free throws. Keith Appling added 20 points as the Spartans won 16 in a row at home and shot 52.2 percent (24 of 46) overall.

"They took advantage of some things that we obviously weren't doing very well," said Taylor. "They've got good players. They just outplayed us, outworked us."

Wisconsin shot poor early, but went on an 8-0 run to take a 12-8 lead 10:09 into the first half. The roof collapsed from there, as the Spartans went on a 14-0 run that gave them momentum, and a lead, they never relinquished.

The turnaround was the result of Green finding his footing. After being held scoreless for the first 10:30, Green scored all seven of his first-half points during the run as the Badgers went 1-for-6 with three turnovers during the stretch.

"That run hurt us," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "They got a couple baskets in transition. Guys thought they were back, but they weren't. Turnovers, long rebounds, that's not a position that we normally put ourselves in. That's why we try not to turn the ball over. Then we're playing from behind.

"Our guys have some fight in them, we came back a little bit. But when you get in that big of a hole, it's pretty tough."

Despite missing six lay ups, Michigan State shot 52 percent in the first half, outscored Wisconsin 15-0 in fast break points and 7-0 in bench points. The Spartans had no transition points after halftime and the bench points were tied 7-7, but the damage was done.

"That's the game right there," said Evans. "We take those away, and all 15 of those were in the first half. Those were off turnovers. So I think that was the biggest game-changer right there in the first half."

Wisconsin traded punches in the second half and nearly doubled its first half point production, but never could get over the hump because the Spartans took advantage of sluggish post rotations to draw eight ‘plus one' opportunities, converting six of them into the maximum amount of points.

Their previous season high was three ‘plus-one' opportunities, resulting in the Spartans leading by as many as 21 points after halftime.

"It's just not us playing good, solid defense," said Bruesewitz, as Wisconsin got zero fast break points and no ‘and one' opportunities. "They got to the rim and we didn't take that away. We've got to take some charges. Cut off angles and just do a better job of not letting them get to the rim, and you do that by taking charges and forcing them away from the rim."

The Badgers managed a 14-2 run to cut the lead to 60-51 with 3:14 remaining, but the Spartans went 9-for-12 from the free throw line to close the game, extend the Badgers losing streak to 40 straight games on the road against a top 10 team and dealt a big blow to their conference title hopes.

"Anything's possible when you're only two back games (with) five games left for us," said Taylor. "It's possible, but obviously we need some help now. For us, it's not how we're looking at it now. We've got Penn State on Sunday and we've got to go in there and get ready for them starting tomorrow and find a way to win that game and go from there."

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