Missing the first five shots from the floor and committing four turnovers in the first 4 minutes, 34 seconds seemed tame for what ensued the rest of the first half.
Throw in three more turnovers and missing 16 of its first 20 shots, including an un-Wisconsin-like six air balls, to shoot a season low 28 percent from the floor, a box score observer could have guaranteed Wisconsin was getting blown out of the Breslin Center against Michigan State, the Big Ten's points per game (81.4).
No.17 Wisconsin's suffocating team defense and junior Jon Leuer scoring 18 of his game-high 21 points after halftime was impressive enough to try to counter the rough shooting night. Too bad in the end, the inconsistent shooting was the detriment proved to UW's undoing in a frustrating 54-47 loss to No.10 Michigan State Wednesday night.
"Anytime you are playing in an opposing arena, you need to be 10-points better," said senior Jason Bohannon, who managed 10 points. "We didn't come fully prepared. We didn't play as aggressively as we could or rebound as good as we can … We had some good opportunities. We just needed to capitalize on them."
Wisconsin (12-3, 2-1 Big Ten) had a game plan defensively to make things challenging on a Spartans team that had five players averaging double digits in points and averaged 50.7 percent shooting. Consider that mission accomplished, as Michigan State had a season low in points and shooting percentage (38.1 percent).
The problem was the Badgers couldn't buy a bucket offensively in a rugged first half and only marginally improved from the floor after halftime, as the size and speed of Michigan State (12-3, 2-0) forced UW out of its comfort zone from the opening whistle.
The Spartans weren't much better, scoring a second-low 22 points to lead 22-20 at halftime, giving UW a glimmer of hope should they be able to turn the ship.
"Basically (it was) two teams that really went after each other," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "I am sore just from watching it."
The Badgers wanted to come into just their third true road test and match-up with the physically-talented Spartans. The final results were not what UW wanted: getting out rebounded 40-27, including 11-6 on the offensive glass.
"They just went after it harder than we did," said Leuer. "It didn't have a whole lot to do with (fundamentals). I think everybody that was out there, our team and there team, is strong and athletic. It just came down to that they went after it harder and ripped the ball out with authority. Those are the things we have to do."
The results could have been much worse had the Spartans been more proficient from the free throw line, where the hosts went 20-of-30 compared to only 8-of-12 by the visitors, and Leuer's first-half frustrations, shooting just 1-for-7, boiling over to the point where he erupted for 18 of UW's 27 second-half points.
"I felt like I forced a couple shots and I realized I was really hurting the team," Leuer said of his first half. "I felt like I had to come out in the second half and do what I can to help."
After playing sparingly in the first two conference games due to first-half foul trouble, Leuer and his fresh legs helped the Badgers find their way on to the door step in the second half, scoring 13 of UW's 15 points over 10 minute second half span, keeping the Badgers within an arm's reach at 44-40 with less than six minutes left.
Wisconsin forced 14 turnovers and held Kalin Lucas, the 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year, to 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting (his worst shooting night of the year), which in turn caused the rest of the Spartans to stay out of sync long enough for the Badgers to quietly chip into the lead.
Credit for that goes to senior Trevon Hughes, who had to leave the game briefly with 6:21 first half after tweaking his ankle. The battle seemed to take something out of Hughes offensively, as well, as he equaled Lucas' 3-of-13 shooting from the floor and just seven points.
Hughes was not made available for comment after the game.
"I thought each one of them worked the other one pretty hard (defensively)," Ryan said. "I don't think they were trying to overdue, except for one little stretch for Trevon … For Trevon, he knows he's had better nights."
The lead chipped down to three before Michigan State took control. Junior Tim Jarmusz was beaten on a give-and-go from Draymond Green to Raymar Morgan, fouling Morgan after his lay-up fell through to extend the lead to 47-41. After UW's next two possessions ended with a Hughes foul and missed three pointer, Lucas hit a jumper in the paint, one of his three made field goals, to make the lead 49-41 with 1:59 left.
After a Bohannon three-pointer that cut the lead to 49-44 and a quick timeout, UW had a chance to inch even closer after Lucas airballed a three-point attempt with 64 seconds left.
But Bohannon's three-point attempt hit back iron and Green grabbed one of his five rebounds, and made 1-of-2 free throw to extend the lead to 50-44. UW seemed to get a gift when Lucas was whistled for a foul on a Bohannon drive to the hoop, but the senior guard missed the front end of the bonus, further adding to UW's woes.
A couple Chris Allen free throws at the other end moved the lead to eight with 29 seconds left, making it too much for the Badgers to overcome their fifth straight defeat in East Lansing.
Allen led the Spartans with 16 points, who improve to 41-19 in Big Ten home openers.
"That's a tough team to go against the post because they swarm to the ball," Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. "I don't think if you ever look smooth when you play against Wisconsin, but we rebounded and we definitely defended. It's a good win for us."