You could say that No. 12 Michigan State (0-2 Big Ten, 6-2 overall) got lampooned on national television. You could say that the ninth-ranked Badgers (2-0 Big Ten, 8-1 overall) would not be going Home Alone without a win in their pocket. You could say that the Badgers seniors delivered like some Christmas Mail (yes, that’s a real movie). Or, you could keep it simple, and say that the Badgers took down the Spartans by a score of 85-76 to snap their 12-game losing streak at the Breslin Center.
The Badgers’ first ever Christmas Day matchup came in an arena that the Badgers have had trouble in for decades. But the Badgers didn’t really care.
“We didn’t talk about the streak,” said Head Coach Greg Gard postgame. “We never talk about it.”
The Badgers started out with an all-or-nothing style of play. They started 4-4 from the field, but also had four turnovers. Fortunately for them, Michigan State couldn’t separate either.
Neither team could separate from the other in the first half, which ended in a tie thanks to a late three-ball from Spartan guard Foster Loyer. Each team headed back to their locker rooms knotted up at 42 points.
It seemed like the Spartans were set to give the Badgers a nightmare on Christmas. Tom Izzo’s squad went up 51-42 early in the second half, and the Badgers couldn’t seem to buy a bucket. But the veteran squad had a trick up their sleeve: D’Mitrik the Hard-Nosed Point Guard.
Trice scored the first 13 points for the Badgers in the second half and the redshirt senior almost single-handedly brought them back from the nine-point deficit with his buckets and some slick steals on defense.
“Last year they got a lead and just kind of kept it,” said Trice on his run in the second half. “When it started to get pulled away, I knew somebody had to make some plays, get to the rim … it just happened to be my turn tonight.”
Trice ended with 29 points, but all eight players that Gard put in the game made significant plays for the Badgers. Senior forward Nate Reuvers was called “nonexistent” in the first half by Gard, but rallied in the second half to tally eight points and two clutch blocks.
The play of the game came from senior forward Aleem Ford with about two minutes to go. Ford chased a ball out of bounds and flew like Rudolph towards the scoring table, where he threw a behind the back pass to Trice, who threw an outlet pass to freshman Jonathan Davis. Trice’s pass found Davis right under the bucket, and Davis kissed the glass for a layup like the net was mistletoe. That gave the Badgers a 77-69 lead that eventually proved insurmountable.
“Aleem made a great play … normally we wouldn’t want to save it towards their basket,” said Trice. “I saw that once he threw it behind his back, somebody had to make a play and it couldn’t be Michigan State.”
After that, it was mostly smooth sledding for the Badgers the rest of the way. Some missed free throws down the stretch gave the Spartans some hope for a miracle, but the Badgers hit just enough to keep Sparty at bay. The final score was 85-76, and it’s fair to say the team was in a pretty jolly mood after the win.
“They doused me with water so I had to change my mask,” said Gard postgame. “I’m gonna have to change everything before we get on the plane.”
This was a convincing win for the Badgers on a national stage. The veteran squad played well together and fought to a victory against an opponent that had plenty to fight for, considering the Spartans were coming off of a loss to unranked Northwestern. Wisconsin sits at the top of the Big Ten’s standing alongside Northwestern, who is also 2-0 in conference play. The Badgers return to play on Monday against an underperforming Maryland Terrapins team at the Kohl Center, where they'll look to keep their momentum from the beginning of Big Ten play.
“Man, we got a lot of heart … it really showed today when we went down nine and we could have folded, but we battled back,” said Trice. “We gotta continue to be that hard-nosed, gritty team that Wisconsin is known for.”