Good thing Wisconsin has one of the toughest guys on its roster in Josh Gasser, who made life miserable for the Big Ten's top scorer.
Leading the Big Ten with 18.2 points per game, Gasser made sure sophomore Gary Harris worked from start to finish; a pesky work ethic that resulted in Harris going 3-for-20 from the field and a season-low six points in Wisconsin's 60-58 victory Sunday.
"It was a full team effort there," Gasser said. "I just didn't want to give him anything easy. I just tried to force him to my help and my guys did a good job of helping me out and forcing him into some tough shots that sometimes he makes and sometimes he doesn't. Fortunately, tonight he didn't."
Over the last five meetings between the two schools, Michigan State has typically played the tougher, more physical style of basketball that forced Wisconsin into tough shots, sloppy turnovers and frustrating. With guards Keith Appling and Brandon Dawson both out with injuries, Harris became the primary focus for Wisconsin's defenders, mainly Gasser. Matched up against Harris from the start, Gasser helped UW's defense, which has not been as strong this year compared to UW coach Bo Ryan's standards, limit Michigan State to 40 percent from the floor – its lowest in a Big Ten game since January 15.
"Josh works as hard as he normally works," Ryan said. "When a guy has an off night, is it for defense? Is it just something isn't right with his shot or something goes a little haywire? You never know. The answer is always somewhere in between. But Josh did a great job of chasing and positioning himself and he had some real good help from his teammates, too."
To go along with 11 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal, Gasser brought a mental and physical toughness that the Badgers were looking for, sticking tight to Harris and forcing him to look a little uncomfortable at times.
In the first half, Harris had four rebounds but no points on 0-for-8 shooting before finding a few easy looks on two fast-break attempts two minutes into the second half.
"In the second half he got those two fast-break dunks," Gasser said. "I was kind of thinking to myself ‘uh, oh he's going to get going now.'"
The Badgers defense recovered after the two fast-break dunks, as Harris only made one more field goal the rest of the second half and Michigan State never led. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo thought Harris – who also finished 0-for-7 from 3-point range - may have been forced into taking a few tough shots throughout the game because of Gasser and UW's help defense.
"He just missed them," said Izzo. "No excuses. No nothing."
When Gasser wasn't playing on-ball defense he contributed to UW's strong help defense, cutting off passing lanes and making it difficult for the Spartan's to set screens.
On two occasions Gasser paid for playing tight defense when he found himself with 6-10, 245-pound senior Adreian Payne bearing down on him. Each time Gasser hit the court hard, but kept on ticking.
"It doesn't feel good," said Gasser, who was carrying a bag of ice following the game because, conceivably from the two blows he received from the center. "[He] has a lot of weight there." Although Harris was being guarded closely by Gasser, he was one of the few Spartans who was not in foul trouble. Forwards Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski and Payne all had four fouls. "We had so many guys on the bench in foul trouble," Izzo said. "I give credit to Wisconsin. They are a hell of a team. They went through their tough time. That's what happens in this league."
A little bit of mental toughness and resiliency doesn't hurt either. After Payne's 3-pointer tied the game at 58 with 24.1 seconds to go, erasing a late five-point UW lead, Jackson's pull-up jumper sealed the victory on the next possession.
"I was just thinking ‘I need to get a shot up this time,'" Jackson said. "I didn't want to take it to the board and get blocked so the pull-up was there, and I'm blessed to be able to make it go in."