Michigan State’s men’s basketball entered the Kohl Center on Friday night as winners of eight out of its previous 10 games. Going head-to-head with the No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers, the Spartans faced one of just a handful of its remaining opportunities to pick up a statement conference win.
MSU, however, was unable to capitalize on the prospects of knocking off the current Big Ten leader after falling behind early and failing to mount enough momentum to overcome the well-coached, experienced Badgers.
It was the Spartans’ most lopsided defeat of the season at 15 points, an underwhelming outcome in what could’ve been a season-defining game for MSU. Now, head coach Tom Izzo and his squad will get back to the drawing board ahead of a rivalry game at home against Michigan next Tuesday.
Wisconsin handled MSU inside play, both on the glass and at the rim. The Spartans were out-rebounded 35-25, a recurring, growing issue for this team and out-scored in the paint.
“There were effort-related things I thought they beat us in,” Izzo said in his postgame press conference.
After a Jaden Akins three-pointer brought MSU within four points late in the first half, the Badgers stole the momentum right back. Wisconsin increased its halftime lead of nine to as much as 19 in the second half. Some of it was stellar defense on its part, but it was clear that MSU lacked the killer instinct it needed to make things interesting.
Michigan State's primary struggle early in the season was its slow starts, as it was on Friday night. Though they were within striking range a number of times, the Spartans never imposed a serious threat. Wisconsin was simply the better, more well-coached group and it showed.
Albeit rare, there were times when MSU strung together defensive stops. But the Spartans couldn’t capitalize. Izzo and his squad never found an answer for Wisconsin’s A.J. Storr, who terrorized the Spartans for a second time this season with 28 points.
“I’m actually happy with some of the defense we played on some of the guys," Izzo said. "But Storr made a difference."
Michigan State guard Tyson Walker, who has now reached double figures in 31 straight games, was as little a factor as he’s been in some time, being held by Wisconsin Badgers guard Chucky Hepburn to just 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
Outside of senior guard A.J. Hoggard, who finished with 19 points, nobody stepped up to fill the scoring void. Akins and graduate forward Malik Hall each scored in double figures but lacked control.
As the Spartans return home to square off against the Michigan Wolverines on Tuesday night, they’ll look to put Friday’s disappointment behind them and fire up another winning streak. Their schedule sets up nicely for so, as they’ll battle Maryland and Minnesota following Michigan.
One thing is clear: MSU needs to pick up a statement win at some point in conference play if it wants a favorable draw come March.
Michigan State and Michigan's matchup is on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at the Breslin Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. with the game streaming exclusively on Peacock.
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