MSU polishes NCAA Tournament resume with upset win over Badgers
Head coach Tom Izzo admitted after MSU’s 84-74 win over No. 16 Wisconsin Sunday evening, the upset has been a work in progress.
He started to address the “white elephant” to his team before its 72-61 win at Nebraska on Feb. 2 — MSU has been to the NCAA Tournament for the last 19 seasons. Izzo’s team meeting came when the team was 14-9 and in doubt of extending MSU’s tournament streak another year.
Part of Tom Izzo's opening statement after the win pic.twitter.com/6g8sXRaheN— Casey Harrison (@CHarrisonTSN) February 27, 2017
But after winning five of its last seven, MSU has found a second wind.
“I put it on myself and they responded,” Izzo said. “I told them just now, the greatest memory making moment for the next 60 years, you’re going to understand that when your back is against the wall and your neck is on the line, you can do one of two things. You can give up or you can grind. And we grinded."
As the season has progressed, MSU has made fewer mistakes — both mental and physical. After taking the 42-38 rebound advantage over the Badgers, the Spartans have out-rebounded opponents in six of their last seven games. Turnovers have been drastically cut since committing 21 in two-straight games, combining for 20 in MSU’s last two games.
“I just think we’re learning, I think we’re putting things together, and we’re finally just being more patient,” freshman point guard Cassius Winston said. “There’s always going to be a challenge. It’s something we have to do. We don’t have a choice. We’re not going to be the team that lets (the tournament streak) die.”
The win over Wisconsin could be the difference-maker to the selection committee as well. MSU finished the game shooting 46.7 percent from the field on a Badger defense that limits opponents to 40.8 percent and kept Wisconsin at just 27.8 percent from 3-point range.
Although it was Senior Day at the Breslin Center, the night was dominated by MSU’s underclassmen who combined for 78 points. Sophomore wing Matt McQuaid led the team’s scoring off the bench with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting with a triple and a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
McQuaid said Izzo’s white elephant speech was one the team needed to hear.
“It was a good talk and we needed to hear it,” McQuaid said. "We needed to know what was on the line. Coach Izzo has been there, he’s won a championship, he’s gone to Final Fours, Elite Eights, everything.”
MSU’s freshmen scored 58 points. Forwards Nick Ward scored a game-high 22 points and Miles Bridges finished the night with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Winston had 10 points, seven boards, and a game-high eight assists and shooting guard Joshua Langford chipped in nine points.
“Coach put a lot of pressure to see what we would do, whether we would back down or if we would respond,” Bridges said. “It just shows what kind of team that we have because we responded. It just shows the toughness of Michigan State basketball.”
With the win, MSU stands at a three-way tie with Maryland and Minnesota for third in the Big Ten. The Spartans will round out the regular season this week with games against Illinois on Wednesday and Maryland on Saturday, both on the road.
Winston said the team’s mentality the rest of the way is to take it one game at a time, but making a big run at the end of the season would definitely carry this team into the postseason.
“By the situation we’ve put ourselves in, every game is a must-win,” Winston said. “If we keep that going it keeps the momentum going. Now’s the perfect time to make of the year a run.”