MADISON, Wis. – Michigan State was trailing No. 18 Wisconsin by five points with less than four minutes to go when Spartans coach Tom Izzo delivered a message to his veteran team.
“Once we all kind of came into the huddle, coach said to us, `We’re winning this game,”‘ senior forward Malik Hall said. “After that, everyone just kind of said, `Hey, we’ve got to do everything we can to win this game.”‘
A.J. Hoggard made a tiebreaking layup with 41 seconds left and Michigan State rallied past the Badgers 69-65 on Tuesday night for its seventh consecutive victory.
Wisconsin (11-4, 3-2 Big Ten) was playing its second straight game without leading scorer Tyler Wahl. The Badgers have gone 0-2 without him, and coach Greg Gard had no update on when Wahl might return.
“He’s doing more and more every day,” Gard said. “But in terms of will he be available Saturday, I don’t know.”
Michigan State (12-4, 4-1) made its last eight field-goal attempts and went 16 of 17 from the foul line to win a nip-and-tuck game that featured 14 lead changes. Neither team led by more than six points.
Izzo credited his Spartans’ experience to come through down the stretch. They were playing away from home for the first time since a Dec. 7 victory at Penn State that started their win streak.
“Experience matters, it really does, especially in this day and age,” Izzo said. “What I’ve got a little different from some is my guys have played together. It’s not a factory of guys running in and running out. Those guys had a feel for one another. The huddles were pretty good that way. They were challenging each other. And that was big for us.”
It helped them respond to Izzo’s challenge.
“We’ve been through some stuff, had some guys down, had to have guys step up, and we’ve been in tight games,” said Joey Houser, who led all scorers with 20 points. “It’s a belief that we’re going to come back, we’re going to get stops and we’re going to make big buckets. Coach can say it as much as he wants, but until the guys start believing it, it’s not going to matter much. But this team believes we’re going to make the winning plays.”
Tyson Walker added 13 points, Jaden Akins 12 and Hoggard 10 for Michigan State.
Steven Crowl led Wisconsin with 19 points, followed by Chucky Hepburn’s 14 and Connor Essegian’s 13 points.
The score was tied at 63 when Hoggard made a move around Crowl in the paint and delivered the basket that put the Spartans ahead for good. After Hepburn missed a 3-pointer, Hoggard made two free throws to move the lead to 67-63 with 28 seconds left.
Wisconsin’s Max Klesmit made both ends of a one-and-one to cut the lead to 67-65 with 13.5 seconds remaining before Walker sank two free throws to complete the scoring with 12.6 seconds left.
It was a rare narrow loss for the Badgers, who are 18-6 over the last two seasons in games decided by five points or fewer. Gard said the difference this time was simple.
“We didn’t execute the last 10 possesions of the game on both ends of the floor like we have in the past,” Gard said.
Michigan State: The Spartans had been winning games with defense., with opponents shooting just 36.4% overall and 23.4% from 3-point range during their last six victories. But they won this one with great shots and offensive execution down the stretch.
Wisconsin: The Badgers proved they could compete with quality teams even without Wahl, who also missed the Badgers’ 79-69 loss at Illinois on Saturday. But a 33-18 rebounding deficit was too much to overcome.
Michigan State center Mady Sissoko went to the locker room late in the first half after taking a hit to the face. He received five stitches above his right eye before returning to play the second half. He ended up with six points and 11 rebounds.
Michigan State should enter the AP Top 25 if it wins Friday. Wisconsin probably needs to win Saturday to stay in the poll.
Michigan State: At Illinois on Friday.
Wisconsin: At Indiana on Saturday.