Neutralizing Neitzel

Second on his team with 13.8 point per game, senior Drew Neitzel had one of his worst games of his career Thursday night and all the blame goes directly to Wisconsin senior guard Michael Flowers.

MADISON – The stats simply do not lie.

Entering Thursday night's tilt with Wisconsin, the Spartans were 10-1 when committing fewer turnovers than its opponent, a perfect 17-0 when sophomore Raymar Morgan scored more than 12 points and had shot better than its opponent in 23 of 27 games.

Over the past two seasons, the success of the Spartans has either directly or indirectly come off the sure hands of senior Drew Neitzel, whose sharp shooting has taken down multiple opponents and wreak havoc throughout the conference, including then-No.1 Wisconsin in East Lansing last season.

On Thursday night, senior guard Michael Flowers took all of that offensive mojo away.

Shadowing Neitzel every time he stepped on the court, Flowers made the Spartan senior have one of his worst all-around performances of his career and was one of the main reasons why Michigan State left Madison as the vanquished for the sixth consecutive time.

"(Flowers) did a good job," MSU head coach Tom Izzo said. "It frustrated Neitzel that by time he got some open looks in the second half, he was frustrated. Flowers is a very good defender and one of the best defenders in this league."

A member of the 2007 Big Ten All-Defensive team, Flowers has been a thorn in plenty of player's side throughout his career, including Neitzel's.

After the then-junior got the better of Flowers in East Lansing, allowing him to shoot 10-for-17, Flowers limited Neitzel to just 11-for-30 shooting, including a 3-for-13 struggle in the Big Ten Tournament.

Flowers had evidently figured out what to do against the shooting guard, as Neitzel's point production went from 28 to 22 to 10.

In perhaps their final matchup, Flowers lowered the boom for the last time.

Neitzel was ineffective all night, going 0-for-5 from the floor in the game's first half and 1-10 overall, his worst shooting performance of the season.

The only damage he was able to inflict was a deep three-pointer in front of the Michigan State with 9:51 remaining, finishing with a season-low three points.

"He was tenacious," sophomore Trevon Hughes said. "He never stopped. He just keeps going like a motor. I think he feeds off of oil. He don't eat regular food. I am praising my teammate because I want to play defense just like him."

Even when Flowers wasn't in Neitzel's face, getting stuck in Michigan State's multiple ball screens, the Badger senior still was a presence in the back of Neitzel's minds.

One of the most consistently accurate perimeter shooters in the last decade for the Spartans, Neitzel missed a handful of wide open looks and passed up a bunch more, as a clear look of frustration covered his face.

"There were some good shots for him at the top of the key and a couple that he should have just pulled up on," Izzo said. "I feel for the kid on that (because) that is not him."

"I might have had some open looks," Neitzel added. "Flowers did a good job on me, keeping me off balance, out of sync. Sometimes, I came off a screen, I was open, but he was there so much, I figured he was just there again and I wouldn't have the shot."

Neitzel's ineffectiveness trickled down to the rest of the starting five, as well. Morgan finished with a meager seven points, Kalin Lucas scored only four points after halftime and the nineteenth-ranked Spartans went only 1-for-10 from the field.

The only Spartan with any measure of success was Goran Suton, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half.

"I don't think the score was indicative of the game," Izzo said. "Yet, they found a way to win and that is what's important."

Although his defense against Neitzel was impressive and a key factor in the game for the second consecutive year, the Michigan State head coach was more impressed from Flowers improvement on the offensive side of the ball, as the Spartans no longer had the luxury of leaving the guard alone for an uncontested shot.

"He's always been a pretty good defender, but he's improved his offense a lot," Izzo said. "He puts the ball on the floor better and I think he's a lot better three point shooter. I think he has really improved his game. He brings tenacity defensively. He's a guy that you have to cover a little different and way better putting the ball on the floor than he was last year."

Thanks to Flowers efforts, the Badgers find themselves in prime position for a share of their first conference crown since 2003. Off until next week Wednesday, the Badgers last two opponents (Penn State and Northwestern) own a combined conference record of 6-24.

Already setting a new school record for conference wins, the Badgers hope they will add two more in the next nine days.

"It was one of our goals when we started the season," senior Brian Butch said. "We have a great opportunity with two games left but we can't look past them. We need to get ready for Wednesday and that we are ready to go. All this team cares about is winning."


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