Going into tonight’s match-up, Michigan State was 4-1 in their last 5 games in the Kohl Center. After tonight’s see-saw affair, sadly they added another win to that tally.
Still without the services of star Tyler Wahl, Wisconsin started slowly out of the gate. Two quick 3-pointers gave Michigan State the early 6-0. It took the Badgers almost 3 minutes to post their first points, a lay-up by an offensively much improved Steven Crowl. He paced the Badgers in scoring with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 turnover.
The first half ended in a similar fashion as it had begun. The Spartans ended on a 5-0 run to take a 33-31 lead into halftime. Wisconsin struggled defensively from the perimeter, allowing Michigan State to shoot 5-8 from beyond the arc while only shooting 4-10 themselves.
Chucky Hepburn opened the second stanza with a long-range bomb to take a one-point lead. Hepburn finished with 14 points on 4-11 shooting (2-6 from 3-point land), 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 3 turnovers. The Badgers did an outstanding job protecting the rock, only turning over the ball 5 times while forcing the Spartans into 14 turnovers.
The second half was a closely contested struggle with 10 different lead changes. Wisconsin’s biggest lead came with 4:14 left when Crowl hit a jumper that put the Badgers up 59-54. Unfortunately, that sparked a Spartan 7-0 run, punctuated with a Joey Hauser 3-pointer to put Michigan State up 61-59. Hauser led all scorers with 20 points and 8 rebounds. 4 out of 5 Michigan State starters had double digits in scoring.
Wisconsin would tie it up again 63-63 with 1:11 remaining on Hepburn’s last basket of the evening. Michigan State didn’t miss a free throw in the final minute and was able to seal the victory, 69-65.
One area of weakness that continues to plague Wisconsin is rebounding. After losing the battle of the boards 33-18 this evening, the Badgers have been out-rebounded in 11 of their 15 games and on the season average 32.7 to their opponents’ 35.4 rebounds. In the past 50 years, there has never been an NCAA champion that averaged being out-rebounded by their opponent for the season.
Wisconsin takes to the road on Saturday, traveling to Bloomington to square off against the Indiana Hoosiers. Tip-off is at 1 p.m. and is scheduled to be broadcasted on CBS.