In one of its most dominating first halves of the season, Wisconsin exploded offensively, shut down Drew Neitzel and got scoring contributions from seven different players in the first 20 minutes, opening up a 15-point halftime lead and, thanks to Alando Tucker's perimeter shooting, registered a sounding 70-57 victory in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Traditionally being labeled as a ‘second-half team,' Wisconsin (28-4) used a dominating first half that frustrated Michigan State (22-11) in every faucet of its game. Wisconsin shot 59 percent (13-for-22) and got to the free throw line 10 times in the first half, compared to only two attempts for the Spartans.
What sparked Wisconsin's offensive explosion in the game's opening minutes was the overlooked offensive threat of junior Michael Flowers. Entering the game averaging a little over seven points per contest, Flowers eclipsed his average in only four minutes, hitting two threes and a perimeter jumper to ignite Wisconsin to a quick 10-0 lead that forced State to burn a timeout.
"Mike Flowers got us going right off the bat with those two jumpers and that was huge," sophomore Joe Krabbenhoft said. "Shooting is contagious and that got us going because the momentum was on our side. If we could get a lead, we knew that our chances would be better."
While there was still over 35 minutes left to play, State head coach Tom Izzo commented that Wisconsin's start was effectively the turning point in the game.
"They got off to a great start and deserved to win the game," Izzo said. "I am very disappointed in how we played. We lost assignments and we missed some opportunities. They beat us and they played well."
If anyone thought Wisconsin was going to cruise to an easy victory, however, they were quick to correct that thought at the beginning of the second half.
The first four minutes of the second half was a complete 180 from the first four minutes of the first half for Wisconsin, as State was the team that ignited an 11-2 run that brought the Spartan faithful right back into the game.
"We didn't get off to a great start in the second half," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "That one run that Michigan State made is how they can play."
When State eventually whittled the seemingly gigantic Wisconsin lead to five, it became Tucker's turn to take over.
Playing his best when the lights are the brightest, Tucker started a three-point shooting clinic. Held scoreless on just two shots in the first half, Tucker hit four clutch perimeter three-point buckets to help the Badgers build their lead back to double digits and stymie the Spartan threat, as State never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
When the offense seemed to lose his edge, Tucker knew that his teammate's eyes were burning a hole in his jersey and that it was his time to shine.
"When we get open shots, we need to take it and we have to be able to attack," Tucker said. "This is the time when my teammates need me the most and I have to set the example. I am going to show up every night."
"That's what he's been giving us all year in all the categories," Krabbenhoft added. "Those three pointers were nice seeing going in."
In addition to his game-high 21 points, leaving him two points shy of passing Michael Finley on UW's career scoring list, Tucker tied Kammron Taylor is dishing out a team-best four assists, three of which came in the first half when he was supposedly ‘struggling.'
"My teammates were getting open and that's one of the things we're making a conscious effort of doing," Tucker said. "When my teammates were doing that, they were stretching the defense out and that will be big going down the stretch."
After playing three times in 18 days, Wisconsin can finally stop seeing green and Drew Neitzel's three-point buckets for the rest of the season … or can they? Although Bo Ryan is ready to move on to the semifinals tomorrow, he's not so sure that Wisconsin and Michigan State won't meet again.
"[In all of my years],we've never played twice at the end of the season," Ryan said. "We could see this team again. I never look at one team any different than the other. Now, we get ready for the next one."