The Michigan State men's basketball team's offense was nowhere to be found for the first 22 minutes of its Tuesday night matchup with No. 23 Wisconsin. Then, it came to life for seven minutes, only to fizzle out again in the game’s home stretch.
Trailing by as much as 13 points in the second half, the Spartans rallied behind guards Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard to cut the Badger lead to three before allowing a 9-0 run that firmly put Wisconsin back in the driver’s seat.
After Walker and Hoggard combined to knock down five three-pointers in under four minutes, MSU trailed 51-48 with plenty of subsequent opportunities to keep the line moving. But its offense stalled and Wisconsin snatched back all the momentum.
“We had three straight possessions, couldn’t score,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “Then (Wisconsin) had five straight points.”
The Badgers’ three-point lead quickly became nine and only grew from there. MSU’s offense returned to its first-half form, and the Spartans dropped yet another game against a ranked opponent.
Similar to its losses against Duke and Arizona, MSU’s comeback bid wasn’t enough to overcome a sloppy, static start. The slow start, for which Izzo took full blame for following the game, contributed to what’s become a common theme for this Spartan squad in its meaningful contests thus far.
“If it happens over and over again, it’s got to be on me,” Izzo said. “And I’ll take it, I’ll take it and I deserve to take it.”
Unlike MSU, Wisconsin came out of the gate red-hot. The Badgers drilled three-pointers on three of their first four possessions, two coming from 7-footer Steven Crowl. Walker and Akins missed open looks on MSU’s end, and the Spartans were back in a familiar position down 11-2 just five minutes in.
It was a deficit the Spartans would not mount – they trailed for all 40 minutes. Their offensive onslaught for seven minutes in the second half was too little, too late.
They also didn’t do themselves any favors in the rebounding category. Wisconsin had its way with MSU on the glass, winning the battle 36-22 with 19 second-chance points. It was clear that the Spartans were outmatched physically, even with both its centers in the starting lineup.
Izzo, once again, took the heat regarding his team’s rebounding struggles on Tuesday.
“We are not tough enough right now and that’s all me,” Izzo said. “I’ll be here all night, I promise you that. We’ll get it fixed.”
Carson Cooper got the start in place of graduate forward Malik Hall, who didn’t practice all week due to illness. Still, Hall played through it, tallying 23 minutes off the bench.
Though the Cooper-Sissoko tandem made sense given the fact that Wisconsin pairs post-player Tyler Wahl with Crowl in the frontcourt, it seemed to be a failed experiment. It highlighted both players’ limitations offensively, which only hindered the already-struggling Spartan offense.
“I couldn’t start Malik. He hadn’t practiced a second” Izzo said. “The two bigs just weren’t good enough to play together.”
There’s no doubt that MSU’s rebounding will need to improve as it moves into conference play against grueling, physical Big Ten opponents. Wisconsin is not the biggest or toughest team the Spartans will face, yet they were outclassed inside on Tuesday.
“We will rebound better the next game,” Izzo said. “That’s one thing we have to do.”
Now 4-4 on the season and 0-1 in conference play, Michigan State possesses the opportunity to bounce back on the road against Nebraska this Sunday, Dec. 10.
Tip-off between the Spartans and Cornhuskers is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
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