It had been 13 years since the Badgers bested Michigan State at the Breslin Center. Finally, with a Spartan team struggling to win games and without their senior leader Eron Harris, UW had a shot to break a nine-game road losing streak to MSU.
But Sunday afternoon, Harris was on the floor and the No. 16 Badgers (11-5 Big Ten, 22-7 overall) dropped their tenth straight game in East Lansing, Mich., to an explosive Spartans team (10-6, 18-11).
Though Harris played just eight seconds as he rested with season-ending knee surgery, there was a different energy in the building for his senior night. But it wasn’t the seniors that did the heavy lifting for MSU against the flailing Badgers; freshmen Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford combined for 58 of the team’s 84 points.
The Spartans jumped out to a quick lead thanks in large part to a 15-4 run that was punctuated by a huge alley oop from Winston to Ward on a fast break. MSU would eventually extend the lead as high as 13, but the Badgers fought back.
Redshirt sophomore forward Ethan Happ snagged a contested defensive rebound with just under ten seconds remaining and started sprinting up the court. He passed off to senior guard Bronson Koenig, who flipped the ball to redshirt senior guard Zak Showalter in the corner. Showalter buried a 3-pointer to end the half, capping a 14-2 run that brought the Badgers to within one point at the break.
Just two minutes into the half, though, Happ picked up his third foul with 18:13 remaining in the game. Fortunately for him, Ward returned the favor 1:20 later and the two both went to the bench.
With Ward sitting in foul trouble, UW cut the Spartan lead to two, but that work was quickly undone by a 11-1 MSU burst. For much of the night, the Badgers looked to be just close enough to make a run, but that run never came.
With an eight-point lead and 1:44 to go, Ward found himself wide open under the basket on a pick-and-roll. Winston dished the ball to him and Showalter’s defense came too late as the big forward finished a strong and-1 layup to seal the deal.
Harris limped onto the court with 11.4 left and the game in hand to give the Breslin Center one final goodbye. Sophomore guard Matt McQuaid committed an intentional travel to give his veteran teammate a chance to walk to center court and kiss the Spartan logo before exiting the game to a massive ovation.
The Badgers struggled from the free throw line all night, finishing 13-of-25 on the afternoon. They repeatedly missed front ends of 1-and-1s, crippling any momentum they might have gained. Senior forward Nigel Hayes led the pack with a heinous 4-of-12 performance at the line, while Happ failed to find the net on his three attempts.
UW has now lost four of its last five games, and will stumble into the Big Ten Tournament regardless of the results in upcoming games against Iowa and Minnesota. The Badgers, once a lights-out shooting team, haven’t shot better than 44 percent from the field in over a month, and desperately need a spark to put together any sort of postseason run.