Sunday afternoon featured a match-up between two teams in vastly different positions in terms of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. On one side, the hometown Wisconsin Badgers are firmly in the field of 68, and are still in the conversation for a 1-seed thanks to Gonzaga's loss on Saturday night to BYU. On the other side, the Michigan State Spartans are currently in the field of 68, but cannot afford many more setbacks as the regular season winds down if they want to ensure they play at least one game in the tournament.
In Madison, WI, the Badgers continued their trek towards a 1-seed, and set the Spartans back a step in the process. On a chilly Sunday afternoon, Wisconsin held down their home court and sent their seniors out in style with a 68–61 win over Michigan State on senior night.
On a night where the Badgers honoured seniors Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson, and Duje Dukan, they couldn’t have started the game any better. Wisconsin opened the game on a 6–0 run, and held the Spartans off the scoreboard for over three minutes to start the contest.
Michigan State would get on the board at the 16:30 mark, thanks to a Matt Costello tip-in, but Wisconsin would respond to push their lead back to six points, at 8–2. Michigan State would then score three straight three pointers to take their first lead of the game, at 11 – 10.
The Spartans would take their only lead of the game at 13–11 with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half, before the Badgers responded and didn't look back.
Wisconsin would take over for the rest of the first half, using strong shooting from Kaminsky, Bronson Koenig, and Sam Dekker to stretch their lead to 10 points with under four minutes to play in the opening period. The Spartans would trim the deficit to seven on a three pointer from Denzel Valentine, but the Badgers couldn’t be stopped.
Wisconsin pushed the lead back to double-digits before the half ended, and the home team carried all the momentum into the break. On a night when they honoured their seniors and their families, Wisconsin took a 36–25 lead into the break.
The second half opened the same way the first half did, with the Wisconsin Badgers rolling on both ends of the floor. Over the first four-plus minutes, Wisconsin went on an 11–0 run to push their lead to 47–25. Michigan State was held off the scoreboard until Bryn Forbes recorded a jumper at the 15:31 mark of the half.
The game looked to be over from the outset, and the Badgers’ lead was never in any danger as the game wound down. However, credit the Michigan State Spartans for never giving up, and for continuing to fight even when the odds were stacked against them.
With just under 10 minutes to play in the contest, the Spartans would cut the deficit down to 15 points, thanks to jumpers from Valentine and Travis Trice. However, the Badgers would immediately push their lead back to 19 and take away any momentum that the Spartans had generated.
Michigan State would cut the deficit to eight points with just 20 seconds to play, thanks to five straight points from Trice, but it was too little too late. Gasser made two free throws for the Badgers, and Forbes made a three pointer in the dying seconds for Michigan State, but it had no effect on the outcome.
When all was said and done, the Badgers came away with the 68–61 victory. In the process, the Wisconsin Badgers secured at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
For Michigan State, Bryn Forbes led the way for the green and white. He scored a team-high 21 points off the bench in the loss. Michigan State went with a new starting lineup in this one, but it didn’t pay off. The combination of Gavin Schilling, Marvin Clark, Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, and Lourawls Nairn didn’t get the job done on Sunday as Clark, Schilling, and Nairn were all held without a point in the contest.
Branden Dawson came off the bench, and was held to just 4 points in only 21 minutes of action.
As for the Badgers, Wooden Award front-runner Frank Kaminsky scored a game-high 31 points to go along with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks in the win. Nigel Hayes added in 14 points to help lead the team to victory.
The loss for the Michigan State Spartans (19–10, 10–6) is another setback for the team, and one of the last ones they can afford if they want to make the NCAA Tournament. They weren’t expected to win this game, so it shouldn’t hurt their chances of making the field of 68 at this point. The fact that they fought back and only lost by 7 points may actually help them in the end. The season has been full of ups and downs for the Spartans, and they need to close the season on a high note to give themselves a chance at the tournament.
Michigan State’s next contest is on Wednesday night against the Purdue Boilermakers, in East Lansing. Wednesday is the night that the Spartans honour their seniors, and they cannot afford a loss to the Boilermakers. A loss would be another blow to the Spartans’ tournament resume, and they likely wouldn’t be able to overcome another setback.
The win locked up at least a share of the regular season title for the Wisconsin Badgers (26–3, 14–2). The Badgers have two more winnable games on their resume to close out the regular season. They pay a visit to the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Thursday night, before taking on the Ohio State Buckeyes to close out the regular season.