It wasn't the prettiest game you'll see this college basketball season, but Tom Izzo will certainly take it. Spurred by a dominant second-half run, the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans defeated the No. 22 Wisconsin Badgers 58-43 on Thursday before a packed house in East Lansing.
Guard Keith Appling scored 19 points for Michigan State, shooting 7-of-13 from the field on a night where neither side could create much offensive rhythm. It was a critical performance from Appling, who came into Thursday night's contest shooting a paltry 25 percent from the floor in his past five games.
Appling’s ascent also helped mask a poor performance from leading scorer Gary Harris. The freshman guard missed each of his first eight shots, including plenty of open jumpers, before finishing strong with 11 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
Harris' early struggles were indicative of his team’s overall failure to knock down shots in the first half. Though the Spartans eviscerated the Badgers in the second half, the first 20 minutes looked very much like a classically ugly contest between the two defensive-minded schools.
Playing a slowed-down pace typical of both offenses, baskets were hard to come by in the early minutes. Neither team eclipsed the 10-point mark until just over nine minutes were remaining in the first half, as a three-pointer from Mike Bruesewitz gave the Badgers a 12-10 lead.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, that was its last lead of the contest. The Spartans defense swallowed up Bo Ryan’s squad for the remainder of the first half to close on a 15-6 run and go into the halftime break ahead by seven.
And though the Badgers eclipsed their 18-point mark from the first half, they didn’t make scoring much of a habit during the final 20 minutes, either.
Struggling to find a semblance of offensive rhythm the whole game, Wisconsin had one of the worst shooting performances from a ranked team this season. The Badgers knocked down just 29.4 percent of their shots, unable to create penetration or hit shots from distance.
Leading scorers Jared Berggren and Ben Brust combined to score only 16 points on 4-of-16 shooting as well, and the latter was Wisconsin’s only double-digit scorer.
Following their loss to Purdue on Sunday, the Badgers will have plenty of work to do if they hope to fix all that ails them come tournament time.
As for Michigan State, Thursday’s win ends a three-game skid full of heartbreak for the Spartans. They had lost close battles to rivals Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State, a streak that essentially put their conference championship hopes six feet deep.
The Spartans’ victory locks up the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament for Indiana, though Michigan State still has an outside shot at sharing the championship with a win versus Northwestern and some help.
Either way, the Spartans should just be happy to get back in the win column.
NFL quarterback Drew Stanton was watching the game and wasn't all that impressed with Wisconsin's pace:
Is watching Wisconsin B-ball more like watching paint dry or ice melt??? #fallingasleeponthecouch— Drew Stanton (@drewstanton) March 8, 2013
While he was the hero on Thursday, Chris Solari of the Lansing State Journal was not ready to say Appling was out of his slump:
Calm down to all saying Appling's out of his slump - he still has to stop chucking up shots from deep. Inside the arc must be his domain.—Chris Solari (@chrissolari) March 8, 2013
Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News speculates the Spartans would never lose if NCAA tournament games were played in East Lansing, which always has a fantastic home-court advantage:
If Michigan State played all their tournament games in East Lansing, nobody would beat them...— Vincent Goodwill (@vgoodwill) March 8, 2013
Unless they get some help, the Badgers will not finish inside the top four in the Big Ten regular season standings. That result ends an 11-year streak for Bo Ryan, according to InsideTheHall.com's Alex Bozich:
This result will also likely end Bo Ryan's streak of finishing in the top four of Big Ten standings.— Alex Bozich (@insidethehall) March 8, 2013
On the other side, CBS Sports' Adam Hoge points out that a top-four seed is guaranteed for Tom Izzo's squad:
Michigan State is now assured a 2, 3 or 4 seed in the Big Ten Tourney. #Spartans— Adam Hoge (@AdamHogeCBS) March 8, 2013
Though the Big Ten tournament remains their next big event, something tells me the Spartans are far more concerned with where they stand on a different seeding board after Thursday.