Friday, February 17, 2012

Thoughts on MSU's 69-55 win against Wisconsin

(Box score here)

Shortly after MSU and Wisconsin got off to their typical ugly start, MSU athletics director Mark Hollis tweeted, "Tacos?" The tweet referred to the free tacos a ticket stub gets you when the Spartans score at least 70 points.

The way the game started, the joke was funny. These teams rarely ever score that much when they meet. But by the end of the night, Hollis almost proved prophetic in MSU's 69-55 win over Wisconsin — the Spartans' biggest victory over the Badgers since February 2000.

With the win, the Spartans (21-5 overall, 10-3 Big Ten) moved back into a tie atop the Big Ten with Ohio State, while the Badgers (19-7, 8-5) fell to two games back of the leaders.

( highlights)

I was covering the game for, and you can see my game story here. (Wisconsin player audio here)

After MSU ended a decade-long losing streak in Madison in January, the Badgers were hoping to win at Breslin Center for the first time since 2004. Instead, Wisconsin lost its seventh straight game in East Lansing, while MSU won its 17th straight.

Travis Trice was out with an ankle injury, putting more pressure on Keith Appling to play strong. He didn't shoot well from the outside, but Appling had a great game on both sides of the court. Appling tied for the game-high with 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting, but he was 6-for-8 on two-point shots. He continues to have issues with three-point shooting, and defenses are adjusting accordingly. After have a 0/7 assist-to-turnover ratio at Ohio State, Appling took much better care of the ball with four assists and two turnovers Thursday. On defense, Appling held Jordan Taylor to 3-for-13 shooting. Taylor scored 28 in the previous meeting, but Appling held him in check all night.

Boot on Trice's right ankle
After falling behind 12-8, MSU went on a 14-0 run to take over. The run was fueled by the fast break, something Wisconsin almost never gives up. Three Badger turnovers resulted in MSU layups, and the Spartans had 10 transition points on the run. MSU had a 15-0 edge in fast break points in the first half (and the whole game) Thursday. In the previous meeting, that edge was just 4-0 for MSU.

The lead was big as 21 in the second half when MSU converted its fourth straight "and-1." MSU had an amazing eight and-1s on the night, converting six of them.

Wisconsin did make fans a little uneasy when the Badgers cut the deficit to nine, but MSU hit nine free throws to pull away the rest of the way. MSU actually only had one field goal in the final 7:43, but hit the free throws and got the stops at the end, giving MSU its sixth win over a ranked team this season — the most in the nation.

MSU shot 52 percent (24-for-46) on the night, becoming the first team to make at least half its shots against the Badgers this season. Wisconsin shot 34 percent (18-for-53), but became the third team this season to outrebound MSU, grabbing 33 of 63 total rebounds. The Badgers also had 12 offensive rebounds on 35 misses.

The view Thursday night

Draymond Green finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, his fifth 20-10 game of the season, as he makes his push for Big Ten Player of the Year. Derrick Nix had 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting and played as good help defense as he did against Michigan. Austin Thornton hit a few two-point jumpers early as MSU ran more plays for him than I can ever remember in a game. Thornton also finished second on MSU with five rebounds.

As mentioned before, MSU is back to a first-place tie with the Buckeyes, but this was the first of five games in 13 days. The next one is Sunday at Purdue. The Spartans also are dealing with injuries. Izzo said he wasn't sure of Trice's status for Sunday. Brandon Wood has been dealing with a shoulder strain and Green appeared to injure his left ankle Thursday, although it wasn't enough to keep him out of the game.

MSU's defense has been stifling. Purdue's offense has been struggling, and the Boilermakers as a whole haven't been that good this year. Mackey Arena is always one of the toughest places to play, but Michigan and Indiana both have won in West Lafayette, so the Boilers are beatable there. It's still too early to start thinking about other teams, but who are MSU fans rooting for Saturday night? U-M or Ohio State?

The Spartans are playing their best ball of the year, but the road ahead only gets tougher.

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