Michigan State took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with their 86-74 victory over No. 8 Wisconsin.
Five Spartans scored in double figures as junior forward Malik Hall led them with 14 points and eight rebounds. Freshman guards Max Christie (12 points) and Jaden Akins (10 points), junior guard Tyson Walker (12 points) and sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard (12 points) rounded out the successful performances from Michigan State's backcourt.
The game marked a return to form for the Spartan's rebounding as they dominated Wisconsin on the glass to post a 19 rebound differential. Michigan State still turned the ball over to the tune of 13 but forced an unusual 10 turnovers from Wisconsin.
In front of a packed crowd at Kohl Center, Wisconsin ushered the first blow with a floater in the paint from sophomore forward Steven Crowl on their first possession. Michigan State got the ball back only for senior forward Gabe Brown to turn it over on the Spartans’ first possession, managing to get back to prevent the fast break bucket.
Nevertheless, the Badgers were eager to continue rushing on Michigan State. Freshman guard Chucky Hepburn made a long three, Bingham knocked it out of bounds and then Davis knocked down a triple of his own for his first bucket of the game-another off a turnover.
8-0, Badgers. The sea of red in the stands roared in delight.
Until senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. knocked down a three of his own to get Michigan State on the board. Davis threatened again with another fast break but the Spartans slowed it down and dismissed his attempt again as Christie stepped up to close out hard on Davis’ missed attempt.
Christie brought Michigan State even closer with a three of his own off a pass from Hall and even as senior guard Brad Davison kept Michigan State down a little longer with his first triple of the game, the Spartans began to set the tone they desired.
It was one that reflected everything Michigan State had failed to do in their loss against Wisconsin: rebounding with an aggressiveness that’s defined the program throughout the years, defending hard and bringing energy and edge to the game that cuts through any hostile atmosphere.
Hoggard was the guy in the first key stretch for the Spartans, embodying those qualities by going after loose balls, tipping passes, rebounding and knocking down a few shots of his own to put Michigan State in a position to take their first lead, 12-11 off a floater from Akins.
Hepburn tied it up at 13 with a midrange jumper of his own but it was the closest thing Wisconsin would see to a lead for the rest of the first half. Junior center Julius Marble II gave Michigan State the advantage quickly after and kicked off a run that made the Kohl Center crowd sound like church mice.
By its end, the Spartans had finally combined that shooting prowess that’s been on display lately with the hard-nosed defense that defined this season’s start to post a 18-5 run, seeing a barrage of threes, drives to the basket and fadeaways in one of their best stretches all season. As Christie capped it with a jumper and freshman guard Jahcobi Neath made a three of his own, Christie lofted a long answer of his own to make it 36-25 and usher on a suddenly shocking rout.
Hall, Christie and Bingham (9 points) were the steadying and productive hands in Michigan State’s statement sway in the first half, combining for 27 points by the time the buzzer had sounded on a 42-26 halftime lead that stunned Wisconsin fans.
The second half saw Michigan State hold the Badgers at a double digits arm’s length for much of the first ten minutes, even as Davison caught fire to the tune of 10 points (4-4 from the field, 2-2 from deep) to start the half. Davison made his first two threes and pumped life into the building-only for Akins to knock down one of his own to keep the Badgers at bay, his second keeping Michigan State at a 55-41 advantage.
And then, starting with a layup from freshman guard Lorne Bowman II and ending with a skying layup from Davis, Wisconsin waged a 11-3 run to bring them back to single digits for the first time since the early minutes of the first period. Hall — one of the key players to bring Michigan State the lead in the first place — took the reins and knocked down another fadeaway and a tip-in basket to bump the Spartan’s lead up to 10 again.
From there, the Spartans continued to grind away on the Badgers, penetrating, shooting and generally having their way on the boards as Wisconsin made some mistakes that haven’t been a part of their identities all season. Davis whittled the deficit back down to 11 with a three to cap off a 7-0 run of his own with around four minutes left in the game and Davison made a triple of his own to cut it back to nine with a little over 90 seconds left.
Still, Michigan State answered the call down the stretch, putting together one of their best closing stretches all season as the Badgers fouled and buzzed them down the stretch. As half of Kohl Center emptied, the buzzer sounded on a 86-74 victory—and sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
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