Spartans balance fuels victory against Badgers
Draymond Green struggled. The Big Ten player of the year looked more like a freshman, at times, than an All-American and Wooden Award finalist. He had a career-high seven turnovers and was visibly off his game.
More concerning, the Spartans came out flat.
But basketball is a team game, and his teammates were more than ready to pick up the slack — as Green has so often this season — to beat Wisconsin 65-52 and move to the finals of the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2000.
Facing a 9-0 deficit, Derrick Nix began to go to work. He had MSU’s first seven points. The Spartans were trailing 14-9 after a Brandon Wood layup, then Austin Thornton stepped in.
Thornton drained three 3-pointers in a row, and MSU pulled within 20-18.
The run kept going and Wisconsin went dry. The Badgers went 0 for 9 from the field in the final 10 minutes of the first half, while the Spartans went 11 of 13.
When halftime arrived, Nix, Thornton and Wood had nine points each. The rest of the Spartans combined for eight. The early deficit was erased, behind MSU’s 26-5 run to close the half, and MSU led 35-25.
The Badgers pulled within 46-40 in the second half, but an 11-0 run from MSU sealed the win, and the Spartans third win against Wisconsin this season.
Nix and Wood finished with nine points, while Thornton added another 3-pointer and had 12. He went 4 for 4 from deep for a career-high in 3s.
For the second consecutive game, the Spartans had at least five players with more than nine points. Against Iowa, six had at least nine and Russell Byrd had eight.
The biggest among those players? Keith Appling with back-to-back games in double-digits. He followed up a 12-point performance against the Hawkeyes with a 13-point effort against the Badgers. He also has a two-game total of 11 assists and just three turnovers.
More important yet, Appling is 6 of 8 from the field and 2 for 3 from 3-point range. The possibility of the Spartans point guard warming up bodes incredibly well — especially with the balanced attack in the past two games.
Green still had 14 points, 16 rebounds and five assists, but for Spartans fans, seeing him have an off-game can be a comfort because the talent is deep and other players are showing the ability to step up.
It’s almost enough to make you believe many more games lie ahead for Michigan State in March and maybe even April.