No Heroics This Time

Flowers and friends were able to figure out Neitzel in the third act between the Badgers and Spartans.

CHICAGO – Maybe it was the quick start.

Maybe he finally figured him out. Maybe it was help in the passing lanes or the added pop a freshman teammate helped put in his step. Or maybe the shots just weren't falling.

Any way you slice it, the Drew Neitzel show failed to entertain in its third act. Michael Flowers and Company couldn't be happier. The All-Big Ten junior who rallied the Spartans to victory over Wisconsin in East Lansing and fell a 3-pointer shy of repeating the heroics in Madison did not have the answers on Friday night.

Maybe Neitzel had a different game plan – to work it inside. Or maybe he used up too many tricks. No one would blame him.

We can all only speculate the difference. Flowers did.

"I mean, you know, my mom talked to me last night," Flowers said in the locker room. "She's like, ‘Can you score if you don't have the ball?'

"And I was like, ‘no.' She really emphasized on me playing Drew Neitzel the whole court, and trying, if he gives it up, make sure he doesn't get it back. And I tried to do that tonight."

So, Flowers' mom was able to stop the Big Ten's most dangerous player of late? Hey, whatever works.

Although, Flowers admitted there was more to it than that. Drew Neitzel, as Flowers consistently refers to him, finished just 3-of-13 with 10 points in the loss. Neitzel did dish out eight assists without a turnover, largely to his big men who set the Spartans' offensive tone Friday.

Yet when Michigan State needed a rally, Neitzel appeared to want to lead them to it, but was never able to consistently heat up enough or break free from pressure.

"It's kind of personal," Flowers began, as to his desire to get the best of his junior colleague the third time around. "But it's kind of not, because you've got five guys out there playing team defense.

"I didn't stop him. I got help. My teammates helped me. They hedged well tonight, and Drew Neitzel wasn't able to get a shot off like he has been in the past."

Specifically, the rest of the Badgers were able to disrupt the passing lanes enough to throw the Spartan offense – best when clicking on quick screens and curls – off its game.

Flowers said Michigan State relies on timing, and his teammates were able to throw that timing off just enough to aid his cause.

And of course, it didn't hurt that Flowers received a little breathing room in the form of Trevon Hughes.

The freshman's minutes increased each time out against the Spartans. This time around he logged a solid ten and allowed a couple of spells for Flowers to catch his breath and quit chasing Neitzel from corner to corner.

"Coach, he likes to bring players along pretty slow," said Kammron Taylor. "With Hughes, he just had to get used to guarding Neitzel, get used to coming off those screens and just getting that practice for it. Over the course of the week he showed a great job of chasing screens in practice and staying with his man. He gave coach that confidence in him."

Flowers gave Hughes a couple of pointers as they grazed shoulders off and on the bench. Apparently, they stuck. Knowing Bo Ryan, Hughes summed it up perfectly.

"Definitely, I was happy with my defense," Hughes said. "If I went back in the second time, that means I was doing something good the first time."

He may only be one man, but the Badgers have to feel a bit of vindication as they embark on the much speculated redemption tour through this conference tournament. They may or may not get shots at Indiana and Ohio State as well. But for a night, Flowers and friends showed they are more than capable of learning from past missteps.

"His game, I made him take tough shots," Flowers said. "Unfortunately for him, you know, they weren't going in. But in the past he's been making those tough shots. He went like 3-for-13. The ball doesn't drop tonight, and unfortunately for him they came out with a loss."

Perhaps Flowers is the only man in the building not ready to relegate Neitzel to one-name status quite yet. One gets the sense that these two still have their share of tangles to come.

"Drew Neitzel is going to get his points," Flowers said.

This time, Flowers just kept him from getting enough.

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