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No. 9 Michigan State nearly overcame Gary Harris’ rough afternoon

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At this point in the season Michigan State sophomore guard Gary Harris is one of the players who has to be considered not only for Big Ten Player of the Year honors but a spot on All-America teams as well. Averaging 18.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game (before Sunday), Harris is one of the key cogs in the attack for a Spartan squad that has battled the injury bug all season long.

To expect Michigan State to win in spite of a 3-for-20 afternoon from Harris with all members of their rotation available would be a stretch. To do so with Keith Appling (wrist) and Branden Dawson (hand) out of the lineup and Adreian Payne (foot) playing just his second game in the last month? Near impossible. Yet there were the Spartans, hanging around at Wisconsin with Payne and Travis Trice making key plays down the stretch. Ultimately Michigan State would fall, as Traevon Jackson hit a jumper from the left wing with 2.1 seconds remaining to give Wisconsin the 60-58 victory.

The issue for Harris, first and foremost, was the defense applied by Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser. One of the Big Ten’s best defenders Gasser made life difficult for Harris for much of the afternoon, and when the sophomore was able to get shots up few of those looks went unchallenged. That resulted in some forced attempts, hardly the recipe for a player looking to get untracked offensively, and when Harris did shake free of Gasser he found another Badger (or more) waiting.

Harris did manage to get two dunks early in the second half, but those plays didn’t provide the spark needed to get him going offensively. Add to this the fact that Harris didn’t attempt a single free throw, and the end result is a six-point afternoon for one of the nation’s best two-guards. Harris did account for seven rebounds and three steals, as he didn’t allow his shot to affect the level of effort given in other areas of the game.

However as noted above the Spartans remained in contact with Wisconsin throughout thanks to the play of Payne, who scored 24 points and tied the game at 58 with a three-pointer with 12.2 seconds remaining. Payne was assertive offensively, and defensively he spent time on both Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky. After shaking off some rust in a comfortable win over Penn State on Thursday night, Payne had the look of the player he was before injuring his foot.

And with an eye towards March and the need for players other than your stars to step forward on occasion, Travis Trice’s 13 points should not be ignored. Trice hit a key three with 1:45 remaining to pull Michigan State to within three, and his pass to Payne resulted in the game-tying basket. And after scoring a total of five points on 1-for-11 shooting in Michigan State’s last two games, maybe this outing will be the confidence boost Trice needs moving forward.

And just as important as the scoring is the fact that Trice went a second consecutive game without committing a turnover. When healthy (knock on wood, Spartan fans) Michigan State won’t need Trice to be a double-digit scorer but they do need him to be productive when on the floor. That happened against Wisconsin, and Michigan State nearly left Madison with the win as a result.

Gary Harris had the worst shooting day of his young career on Sunday, with Michigan State also missing two starters, and Tom Izzo’s squad nearly overcame it. The Spartans will be fine, because it’s a safe bet that Harris doesn’t shoot that poorly again.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.