Michigan State outworked Wisconsin in the paint in the first half on the strength of senior Adreian Payne and junior Branden Dawson to earn a trip to Big Ten Tournament final and send the Badgers home with an 83-75 defeat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday.
The Spartans (25-8) used the size of Payne (18 points, four rebounds) and Dawson (14 point, seven rebounds) to frustrate Wisconsin's offense and defense.
"They took it to us tonight," said Sam Dekker, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. "Seems to be the story when we're losing it's because of the defensive end. It happened again in the first half. They hit shots and we didn't do a good job and credit them for a good job."
From the opening tip, there seemed to be no room to work in the post for Wisconsin (26-7), forcing the Badgers to settle for jump shots they couldn't convert. UW hitting just one of its first 10 shot attempts.
"It was pretty physical inside," said Dekker. "With two big teams that have a lot of pride and are known for playing tough games, that's going to happen."
The Spartans were the aggressors from the get-go, jumping out to an early 7-0 lead on the strength of a Dawson dunk, a Keith Appling layup and a Payne 3-pointer. Getting into the paint helped the Spartans stay on the offensive against Wisconsin's slow defense.
The Spartans used that toughness to get points in the paint ad nauseam, outscoring UW 20-8 in the first 20 minutes.
"It's the tougher team that's usually going to come out on top," said Dekker, "and they were the tougher team."
The Spartans scored nine second-chance points in the first half from four offensive rebounds.
"When you give teams second-chance points it gets them going and then the score goes up, the confidence rises for them," Hayes said. "It's just hard to beat a team like that."
Wisconsin grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the first half, but it struggled to get anything going from those second chances. Shooting 7-for-25 compounded UW's problems, allowing MSU's defenders to sink into the lane and clog driving lanes.
"They're a very good team at digging the ball out," said Nigel Hayes. "You saw a lot of times when we were in driving lanes they got hands on the ball and we got stripped. So, that's credit to them but we also have to make sure we take care of the ball."
When Frank Kaminsky wasn't in the game, Payne bodied up on Hayes, whose only two points came at the free throw line.
"The ball just didn't go in for me," Hayes said of his 0-for-5 game. "Not to say I couldn't do anything else like rebound or play better defense, but the shots weren't going down early. I had to find other ways to score. I tried to get an easy layup (but) I missed that so the ball didn't roll my way today."
Kaminsky also wasn't effective on the inside early, scoring 10 of Wisconsin's first 13 points from the free throw line and perimeter. He did finish with a game-high 28 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field but grabbed just two rebounds before fouling out.
Payne was also in foul trouble, but the Spartans were able to survive his absence until he checked back in for the final 2:40 of the game. Wisconsin outscored the Spartans 20-10 in the paint in the second half, but it was too little too late.
"They really got into a rhythm, and we dug ourselves a hole and we couldn't get out of it in the second half," Kaminsky said. "We played much better, and that's how we have to play going forward."