There is no other better way to put it besides it was an ugly offensive performance. The consistency and rhythm Wisconsin played with during its seven game winning streak was nowhere to be found, as the Badgers finished the game 20-for-59 (33.9 percent) from the field. It was UW’s worst shooting performance since the Oklahoma game in late November (23.5 percent).
The only player to form some sort of offensive rhythm for Wisconsin was Ethan Happ, who had a team-high 18 points to break a run of two straight games scoring in single digits. One of only two players to score in double figures, Happ – like his teammates – started slow and struggled around the rim but – unlike his teammates – was able to put together some solid possessions in the second half.
Bronson Koenig scored nine of his 12 points from 3-point range (3-for-5), but after making his first three at the 18:55 mark in the first half, Koenig’s next made shot didn’t come until there was 6:22 remaining in the second half when Wisconsin was down by 19 points. Zak Showalter had eight points on 3-for-6 from the field, and Nigel Hayes had a season-low five points on 1-for-13 shooting after being well pestered by Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis.
The only time Wisconsin had rhythm was when they touched the post, something they didn’t do nearly enough in the first half. UW finished the game with 24 points in the paint but couldn’t duplicate the same success it had from 3-point range over the last three games, shooting 6-for-20. Only three players for Wisconsin made a three: Koenig had three triples, Alex Illikainen hit two for his six points and Jordan Hill hit one with 10 seconds to go in the game.
With Wisconsin’s offense flailing, the Badgers also struggled to generate second-chance opportunities for themselves in the early going. UW’s first offensive rebound didn’t come until the 11:10 mark in the first half. However, UW ended up grabbing nine offensive rebounds in the second half and 14 for the game, leading to 15 second-chance points.
Failing to crash the boards and win the loose balls in the first part of the first half was a big reason why Wisconsin went through a prolonged scoring droughts that effectively decided the game. After Koenig’s 3-pointer at 18:55, UW went 6:21 without a field goal, shooting 0-for-7 from the field with two turnovers. The Spartans quickly build a double-digit lead and a lead that never dropped below seven points.
The only thing that saves this grade was UW continued to fight, closing the first half on 7-0 run and the second half on a 15-7 run.
Michigan State’s offense really was able to get anything it wanted and Wisconsin’s defense seemed powerless to stop them. The Spartans struck a balance from the perimeter (8-for-17 from 3-point range) and inside the paint (24 points) to shoot 26-for-56 (46.4 percent) from the field.
It should be no surprise that Denzel Valentine was one of the main reasons for the Spartans’ efficiency. The Badgers simply didn’t have an answer for Valentine when it came to the senior finding ways to score or distribute the ball. He led Michigan State in scoring with 24 points (9-for-19 shooting) and with 10 assists, seven of which came in the first half. He threw in seven rebounds for good measure.
If Valentine wasn’t enough to deal with, the Spartans consistently used screens to get open looks for 3-point marksman Bryn Forbes, causing the Badgers to have trouble hedging through screens and forced to chase. That resulted in too many clean looks for Forbes, who made Wisconsin’s defense pay by scoring 17 points by shooting 6-for-12 from the field and 4-for-8 from 3-point range. Eron Harris was the only other Spartan to score double figures with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field.
Leading the nation in assists, Michigan State registered 20 assists on 26 made field goals. Too often Wisconsin allowed the Spartans to simply catch and shoot without contesting the shot, evident by UW finishing with only three blocks. Allowing Michigan State to get clean looks is something you can’t do against a team that is filled with that many shooters.
Just like on offense, the lack of hustle at times by Wisconsin’s defense allowed the Spartans to generate second chance opportunities for themselves, finishing with 12 offensive rebounds that resulted in nine points. Not surprisingly, Michigan State won the rebounding battle 38-31.
The only thing negative against Valentine was committing four of Michigan State’s 12 turnovers. But even with Wisconsin creating the second chances, the Badgers could only convert the Spartan miscues into 12 points.
At times it seemed like the Wisconsin team that won seven straight games wasn’t present as Michigan State. UW was quickly knocked off its game on both ends of the floor and, despite a handful of attempts at the end of each half, never really posed a threat to the Spartans.
Wisconsin couldn’t consistently establish the post like it has over the past seven games, which helped lead to open looks from the perimeter. Wisconsin became too jump shot happy, choosing to go one pass and shoot instead of feed the ball inside. The result when Wisconsin try to speed things up was take some ugly shots.
Despite dealing with foul trouble in the first half, Happ remained aggressive and was one of the few Badgers diving for loose balls. Happ generated the most success in the low block and, not surprisingly, was Wisconsin’s best offensive option. Happ attacked when he could and tried to draw fouls against the interior of Michigan State’s defense, as he was second on the team behind Hayes in free throw attempts by going 4-for-5. Hayes' shooting struggles carried over to the free throw line, going 3-for-6.
Too often one of the Spartans players were able to successfully contest a shot, as the Spartans finished with six blocks and found ways to clog the interior of the lane to prevent offense. Hayes and Vitto Brown each scored five points on a combined 3-for-19 shooting from the field. Hayes was able to draw some fouls when he choose to be aggressive in the low post, but Brown was missing for long stretches throughout the game and came nowhere close to matching the same kind of success he has over the last three games.
Despite one of Wisconsin’s poorer shooting performances, the Badgers did a better job of taking care of the ball. Finishing with nine turnovers, resulting in 13 MSU points, UW broke a six game skid of committing double digit turnovers.
Game MVP: Ethan Happ. The most consistent scorer for Wisconsin, Happ led the Badgers in scoring for the fifth time this season after scoring 14 of his 18 points in the second half on 6-for-11 shooting from the field. Outside of leading Wisconsin in scoring, Happ also finished the game with two assists and two steals.