The Breslin Center has been a house of horrors for the Wisconsin Badgers, who came in to Sunday’s contest with a nine-game losing streak at Michigan State. Make it 10-straight at the Breslin Center and four of the last five on the season.
Even a 22-point night by Nigel Hayes along with 15 points from fellow senior Zak Showalter couldn’t save the Badgers. That’s because MSU countered with 22 points from freshman big man Nick Ward and had four players reach double figures in the 84-74 victory.
Wisconsin’s offense has struggled mightily out of the gate in its recent slump. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, as UW shot 43 percent from the field and committed just eight turnovers on the day.
However, the Spartans hit on 28 of 60 shots and were much more efficient at the free throw line, hitting 21 of 23 from the charity stripe. UW had an opportunity to really make the Spartans pay for foul trouble, but Hayes couldn’t find any rhythm from the foul line and was just 4-12 from the free throw line. The rest of the Badgers were 9-10 from the line, but Hayes’ struggles were just too much to counter down the stretch.
It was evident offense wasn’t going to the be problem for the Badgers on Sunday, as Wisconsin was up 10-4 at the under-16 minute timeout thanks to good hustle from Ethan Happ and some big shooting by Showalter.
Michigan State wasn’t going away though, instead it kept pace with the Badgers and after UW cycled out Happ, Hayes and Koenig it was all MSU for the next 15 minutes or so. It led to an 8-0 run, MSU’s first lead of the game and eventually 13-point lead at 26-23 with 6:02 to play in the first half.
The Spartans took UW to school down low for much of the first half. Nick Ward put up 13 of his 22 points on the day in the first half, while Matt McQuaid came off the bench to give MSU 11 of his 15 points in the half as well.
McQuaid came in averaging just 5.1 points per game on the season, but he went off in the first half and managed to outscore UW’s bench 11-9 by himself. However, the Spartans hot hand eventually ended.
UW took advantage of MSU’s misfortune late in the half, bursting out to a 14-2 run to end the half. It resulted in just a one-point Spartans lead at 38-37 as the teams went to the locker room.
The hosts came out hot to start the second half, going on a 6-2 run to start the half and push its lead to 44-39 with 17:10 to play. However, Wisconsin went to the all-Hayes offensive strategy and the senior put the team on his back to try to get things back in UW’s favor.
He had 13 of his 22 points in the second half, but even his effort offensively couldn’t slow down a hot-shooting Spartans squad.
After a Hayes layup made it a two-point MSU lead with 12:26 to play, the Spartans woke up and put together a 16-5 run to re-establish dominance in the game.
Wisconsin tried mightily late in the game, going on a 7-0 run over a 2:14 span to cut Michigan State’s lead to 72-66 with 3:11 to play. It was just too little, too late though and the Spartans were able to settle down and force the Badgers in to rough shooting situations down the stretch.
Michigan State controlled the game late, and even got senior guard Eron Harris, who suffered a career-ending knee injury just a few weeks ago, in to the game to take in the crowd one last time.
Harris also got to participate in the Spartans tradition of kissing the court, doing so after a traveling call with a few seconds left in the game gave Harris a safe opportunity to take center stage.
Wisconsin’s road to the NCAA tournament isn’t going to get much easier either, with a red-hot Iowa and Minnesota left on the regular season schedule. UW will look to end its late-season skid when it hosts Iowa on Thursday March 2 at 8p.m. CT. The game will be televised by ESPN.