Wisconsin had six players score against Michigan State but it was Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes who carried the load, as the two combined for 52 of the team’s 77 points. Koenig finished with a career-high 27 points on 8-for-15 (53.3 percent) shooting, and Hayes finished with 25 points on 7-for-14 shooting. It was Hayes’ fourth straight game in double figures.
While Koenig and Hayes combined to make 15 field goals, the rest of the roster made only four on 18 shots. Finishing with 14 points, Ethan Happ’s three made field goals (on seven attempts) was the third-most on the team but his first made shot from the field didn’t come until the 18:34 mark of the second half. The Badgers shot 21-for-47 (44.7 percent).
Wisconsin’s offense did battle through a couple of scoring droughts, which allowed the Spartans to either take the lead or build on a lead. The longest drought for Wisconsin’s offense was in the second half, as UW missed five straight field goals from the 7:58 mark to Koenig’s 3-pointer with 26 seconds left.
While UW has struggled to overcome its scoring lulls this season, the Badgers kept fighting and remained aggressive during that stretch. As a result, UW was rewarded by generating Michigan State fouls, resulting in the Badgers going 6-for-8 from the line during the drought to stay in the game and to prevent the Spartans from taking total control of the game.
Drawing 28 fouls against the Spartans, UW had a season-high 36 attempts, saw all five starters get to the line and three players (Happ, Hayes and Koenig) make at least seven free throws. UW finished 29-for-36 (80.6 percent) from the line and allowed Happ, who struggled to convert around the rim at times, to remain aggressive and generate production by going 8-for-13.
Wisconsin’s defense made it too easy at times for Michigan State’s offense, particularly in the second half when the Spartans shot 59.3 percent after being held to 12-for-32 (37.5 percent) in the first half.
Wisconsin allowed Michigan State to get off to quick start to begin each half, as the Spartans scored on all five of its first offensive possessions in the first half and make its first seven field goal attempts in the second half. The second-half spurt turned into a 16-5 MSU run that wiped out a five-point UW halftime lead.
The foundation of the Spartans’ run was getting the ball into the paint to an open man or a person cutting to the basket off of a screen play. MSU finished with 34 points in the paint, and Matt Costello was usually the one cutting to the hoop. The senior finished the game with 18 points, 16 of which came in the paint.
A national player of the year candidate, Denzel Valentine led the way with 23 points on 8-for-19 shooting, all his points coming after the 6:40 mark in the first half. Eron Harris finished the game with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the field, and Bryn Forbes finished with 12 points off the bench. Overall Michigan State shot 28-for-59 (47.5 percent).
Wisconsin struggled to keep Michigan State off the glass (15 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points), but the Badgers started boxing out better and attacking loose balls, resulting in the Spartans getting only five offensive rebounds in the second half. Costello led the Spartans with five offensive rebounds as he finished the game with 13 rebounds, giving him his fourth double-double of the season.
UW’s defense forced nine turnovers, four of which came off of steals, and resulted in 13 UW points.
Khalil Iverson only played four minutes in the game but could have made his best play of the season with 22 seconds remaining and Wisconsin down a point. After a made 3-pointer by Koenig, Iverson subbed in for Alex Illikainen after a timeout and helped trap Harris in front of Wisconsin’s bench after he received the inbounds pass. Harris stepped out of bounds to give Wisconsin the chance it needed to win the game. The defensive play by Iverson was impressive considering he was able to stay disciplined and not foul when Harris picked up his dribble. With nowhere for Harris to go, Happ coming over to double team him caused him to panic and eventually step on the sideline as he tried to pass.
Like the Spartans' previous miscues, the Badgers took advantage when Koenig found a cutting Happ for the game-winning basket with 10 seconds remaining. While he may have struggled shooting the ball, the reverse layup by Happ was far from easy, especially with Costello defending around the rim.
Wisconsin might have lost the rebounding battle (35-25) but registered 10 second-chance points off of eight offensive rebounds and finished the game with 20 points in the paint. Probably the most impressive part of Wisconsin’s offensive performance is that Wisconsin finished the game 6-for-14 (42.9 percent) from 3-point range, as MSU entered the game first in Big Ten 3-point percentage defense (27.7 percent).
Koenig and Hayes were the only two players for Wisconsin to make a three (Koenig 4-for-8, Hayes 2-for-3) and establish a rhythm on offense early on that carried throughout the game. It was the first time this season where both Koenig and Hayes scored at least 20 points in a game, not to mention register double-digit points in both halves for the first time this year (they did it in three different games this year).
Aaron Moesch played a career high 12 minutes, played solid defense finished with one rebound and assisted on Charlie Thomas’ bucket that was the lone bench points for UW. Jordan Hill’s nine minutes snapped a six game streak where the redshirt sophomore played at least 20 minutes. For the first time in three games, Vitto Brown (five points and five rebounds in 21 minutes) received more playing time then Illikainen (18 minutes).
The elation of UW’s players was plain as day after Valentine’s 3-pointer was too strong off the rim and the buzzer sounded, as the Badgers needed to win a close game, just for their mental psyche after struggling to close out games this season.
Game MVP: Bronson Koenig. Koenig had been struggling with his shot in Big Ten play but came out with confidence against the Spartans. The 27 points was his third 20-point game of the season and his 53.3 percent from the field was the seventh game this season shooting above 50 percent. Koenig was able to assist in giving Wisconsin its largest lead of the game (six points), scored five of Wisconsin’s last nine points and deliver the assist on Happ’s game winning layup. Koenig finished the game perfect (7-for-7) from the free throw line, had four of Wisconsin’s six assists and only turned the ball over once.