With a look of disdain on his face, Tom Izzo signaled sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard over towards the bench before calling a timeout to try to calm his team down and silence the bellowing cheers from Wisconsin.
Wisconsin just cut Michigan State’s once 17-point lead to only six with just over 10 minutes left, forcing Izzo to take a break from the action while the Wisconsin faithful were shaking the Kohl Center to its foundation.
Michigan State — who was once comfortably dominating during the first half — now had its back against the wall with the No. 8 Badgers coming at them in full force.
Coming out of the timeout, Michigan State needed a bucket to answer the 9-2 Wisconsin run to silence the crowd. Izzo turned to junior forward Malik Hall on the first possession coming out of the timeout and Hall immediately hit back-to-back turnaround jumpers to push the lead back to double digits and silence the crowd.
“I felt like they were going on a run,” Hall said. “I just wanted to do as much as I could to try and get some momentum back in our favor. Once that crowd got involved they got really loud and they started getting on a roll. So I was trying to just do anything to be able to calm that down.”
The two baskets were just four of Hall’s team-high 14 points, but they came at the perfect time to lift MSU when they needed it most. Michigan State rattled off a 7-0 run coming out of the timeout to push the lead back to 13 and shut down the Badgers’ only real attempt at a comeback.
The answer to the flurry of made shots was emblematic of Michigan State’s resilience all night. Whenever Wisconsin started to make plays and gain momentum, Michigan State was right there with the perfect answer to keep them at bay.
“I thought we could've crumbled when they got it down,” Izzo said. “My guys were good. I mean, Malik was really good in there. He said, 'You know, we gotta just do what we got to do.' A.J. was really good. And we did come up with some big plays, Joey (Hauser) made those free throws then in that stretch, and that really made a difference. So I was proud of them for that because this is one of the more hostile environments.”
After Wisconsin started the game with an 8-0 run, Michigan State had to step up and answer against the number eight team in the country with one of the loudest crowds in the country breathing down its neck.
Instead of succumbing to the pressure and wilting, the Spartans answered with a 20-5 run over the next eight minutes of the first half to jump out to a 20-13 lead that they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. One of the biggest differences after the opening minutes was the presence of Hoggard, who stepped in to settle the team down after four turnovers on its first six possessions while bringing an energy level that could not be matched.
“My mindset was just to come in and bring energy and be smart and get our guys going again,” Hoggard said. “Just coming in and bringing energy was the key for me honestly, taking care of the ball definitely was a big key as well and just kinda getting our guys going offensively.”
After taking the lead, Michigan State continued to put its foot on the gas for the remainder of the half, carrying a 16-point lead into the locker room.
Just like Michigan State, however, Wisconsin was not done fighting. The Badgers instantly began to whittle into the daunting deficit with lights-out shooting in the first 10 minutes of the second half, hitting 10 of its first 13 shots coming out of the locker room.
The comeback effort was led by senior guard Brad Davison and sophomore guard Johnny Davis — who combined for 47 points — including 31 in the second half. Davison was the true catalyst for the attempted comeback, making shot after shot early on, but his efforts were minimized by MSU’s answers.
While Davison was knocking down shots, Michigan State had an answer in the form of freshman guard Jaden Akins. Immediately after Davison hit two threes in the second half, Akins, like the rest of the MSU bench, was unfazed and prepared with an answer from the left wing to keep MSU’s lead the same margin.
“I think everyone brings a level head and a mindset to where they can contribute and help us get the win,” Hoggard said. “So I think Jaden did a good job of that. Malik did a hell of a job of that tonight. Joey did his thing tonight. I think a lot of guys did their job tonight and doing your job always leads to a good outcome.”
The strong shooting from Wisconsin got them within six points, but Hall’s clutch baskets to silence the crowd proved to be a nail in the coffin of Wisconsin’s comeback.
Michigan State’s mental fortitude that was on display for 40 minutes tonight was the type of answer the team needed after its disappointing loss to Northwestern at home. There was plenty of doubt that lingered around Izzo and his team after yet another disappointing performance finally ended in a loss.
But Michigan State silenced those questions with the resounding win against a top 10 team on the road. Just like Hall’s turnaround jumpers of Akins’ threes, MSU dialed up exactly what it needed to quell any doubts that followed the team after last Saturday through its unwavering mental toughness.
For the first time in months, Michigan State played with a level of heart that could not be matched by its opponent and the effort made them look unstoppable.
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“I think it's a big deal for us, the start of something,” Hall said.
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