For Wisconsin's men's basketball team it was just a matter of getting the offense out of an early first half stall and into drive to move past rival Michigan State. The Badgers fell behind the Spartans 17-5 in the game's first five minutes but battled back with a 36-14 run to end the first half with a strong post presence that continued into the second period, giving the Badgers a seemingly easy 77-64 win.
"They didn't get down," coach Bo Ryan said of his Badgers. "I hate to even look at it as a comeback, but I guess that's the term you have to put out. I can remember teaching one of my kids to drive a stick shift and boy, that's what it sounded like out there today. Just grinding gears and not getting a whole lot…not going anywhere, and finally, we just got things…let the clutch out, put it in gear and it was nice to see."
Devin Harris led the way for the Badgers with 21 points, four assists and five rebounds. The junior guard initially struggled from the floor like many of his teammates, but found his way through the lane and to the charity stripe to guide Wisconsin.
"We weren't really that aggressive early, but it's nothing to panic about because we know shots are going to fall, especially at home," Harris said. "We knew we were going to come back. It was all about patience."
Patience coupled with the scoring contributions of two unlikely candidates helped Wisconsin jump back into the game. The contributions of guards Boo Wade and Clayton Hanson allowed Wisconsin to build a lead while playing without injured forward Alando Tucker in the lineup and limited production from starter Mike Wilkinson, who struggled against Michigan State's burly frontcourt.
Wade notched a career-high 15 points to go along with six rebounds, three assists and zero turnovers in 32 minutes of play. Hanson scored all nine of his points in the first half, good enough to lead all scorers at halftime.
"We've got good players who are playing hard and trying to play smart," Ryan said. "They're competitors and they're tough and I like coaching them."
Zach Morley added 13 points for Wisconsin to go along with four steals. The Badgers totaled 25 points off of 17 Spartan turnovers while out-gaining their opponent 34-16 in the paint.
After the game Spartan head coach Tom Izzo was decidedly upset with some aspects of the officiating, allowing Wisconsin to reach the free throw line almost three times as much as Michigan State.
"I was really frustrated (with not getting to the line) today," Izzo said. "I felt that there was a lot of physical play inside. I thought it was knick-knack on one end and not on the other, but that's my opinion and my impression. I think (the Badgers) do a great job with their bodies; hands are always up, bodies are always hidden. We didn't handle it well."
Guards Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert led the way for Michigan State with 13 points apiece. Center Paul Davis added 12 points and four rebounds while being limited to just 22 minutes due to constant foul trouble.
Wisconsin improved to 2-0 in conference play and 11-2 overall while the Spartans fell to a 5-7 overall record in their Big Ten opener. It has been a disappointing start for a Michigan State team that was met with little success in a tough non-conference schedule and was looking for a clean slate with the advent of conference play.
"It's disappointing that I still feel this team is not playing like this program has played," Izzo said after the game. "I do not think we've been physical and tough enough; give Wisconsin credit on that."
Ryan, however, was not settled with his team's early season success citing the Badgers' good fortune of a home-game-heavy early season schedule, with a tough road stretch on the back end. Wisconsin improved to 18-0 in home-conference games under Ryan.
"We're fortunate to take care of business here at home," Ryan said. "We haven't been home to start (the Big Ten season) the last couple of years so it was nice to start at home here… I know every day on the practice floor, if those guys are working hard, I know we have a chance (to win the conference)."
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Badgers "Smash" Spartans, 77-64 (premium)