This year’s Big Ten regular season has been, for lack of a better term, bonkers. Ohio State lost to Penn State at home, the last time Appling, Harris, Dawson, and Payne all played together was January 7, against Ohio State at home, and Wisconsin has lost three straight home games. Wisconsin’s absurd home losing streak didn’t fool Izzo, “Just (because) they lost a couple of home games – and that’s un-American in the Cheesehead State – don’t kid yourself. They’re a very good team.”
‘I just sucked today’
Harris was awful, but he will be the first to admit it, “I don’t know how to phrase it any other way than I just sucked today.” Harris may have played bad, but it’s refreshing to see a leader take responsibility for his poor game. Great shooters have amnesia, and never quit shooting, and Harris showed that finishing the game 3-20 from the floor, and 0-7 from behind the arc. As poor as his shooting was, Izzo kept going to Harris, “I kept going to him. That may be my fault but you have to rely on the guys that got you here, and Gary’s Gary. I have faith in him…” Izzo said following the loss. Good thing Izzo trusts Harris, he went to him late and Harris delivered, hitting a huge deep two-pointer with 24 seconds left to make it a one possession game at 55-58. He may have had a poor shooting game, but Harris is the type of player that does more than just score. He always plays great defensively, ending with 3 steals and 7 rebounds.
Payne played like a man
It sure is nice to have Payne back. He looks like the most talented big man in the country, and deserves respect come draft night. No matter what happens in June, Payne played great against Wisconsin. Payne made the biggest shot of the game for the Spartans; his three-pointer with 12 seconds left looked to send the game into overtime at 58 all. Unfortunately, Jackson came down and made a great play on the other end. Payne finished 9-16 from the field, 2-3 from behind the arc, and a game high 24 points. However, he does need to improve some on his toughness on the inside: he only had 4 rebounds and 6 turnovers.
Last night, Izzo proved that he can still coach. When every other Spartan in the gym was aghast at Harris’ night shooting the ball, Izzo went to him with the biggest shot of the game, up until that point. Harris drilled a deep two-point shot fading to his right with 24 seconds left; Costello was passing the ball in. Harris’ shot came after an Izzo timeout with 26 seconds left, possibly stopping a 5 on 4 to save Valentine from air balling a three. Izzo also drew up a perfect play out of a timeout for Payne to nail a three with 12 seconds left. He had shooters all over the court, gave Trice the ball to make the decision and sent him over a ball screen as Gary faded over a screen to the corner and Payne, after screening, stepped out for a wide open three. Izzo put on a coaching clinic, and was pleased with his team’s execution on the final play, “We executed that last 3-pointer as well as we’ve executed any play in the last 10 years. So give Payne credit – he hit a big shot when he was dead tired.” Izzo seemed confident if the game would have gone into overtime, “Once (Payne) hit that three, I felt like, ‘Hey, if we go into overtime we’ll be fine.”
Izzo wasn’t pleased that Wisconsin had a 20-9 advantage in free throw attempts. He seemed to be taking some of his anger out on the refs after the game, “I felt sorry for Gary. Every time he went to the hole I felt he got hit, and he never got a call. I’m just so sick of it.” Izzo went on to say, “Give our guys credit. The foul trouble we got in, with the way the officiating was – it was just hard to play. We played with I don’t even know who was on the court at times.”
A Scoreless 6:51 to Close Half
This game was possibly lost in the first half. The Spartans had a 22-19 lead with 6:51 left in the half, and then never scored again until after halftime, which they trailed 22-30. It was an 11-0 run for the Badgers. The streak started after Valentine assisted Ellis on a lay-up, just under the seven minute mark in the first half. In the preceding seven minutes the Spartans missed 13 straight shots, four of which were threes. Harris missed seven shots in the span.
Give credit where credit is due, Wisconsin is a tough team that was ranked in the top five earlier this season. As usual for a Bo Ryan team, Wisconsin was balanced in the stat book. Brust had the most shot attempts with nine, freshman sixth man Nigel Hayes led the team in scoring with 14 points, and four players were in double figures.
Once again, Jackson was clutch against the Spartans. After Payne hit a huge three with 12 seconds left, Jackson came down and went one-on-one against Harris and won. Jackson pulled up going left and dropped a 12 footer with five seconds left to give Wisconsin a 60-58 lead. After the game Gasser said, “I’m inbounding; he’s the first guy I’m looking for. There’s a bunch of guys that want to take it, but I think Trae really, really wants to take it.” Jackson did more than make the game winner; he finished with seven points, five rebounds, eight assists, and five turnovers.
Currently, Wisconsin sits fifth in the Big Ten at 6-5. Looking ahead to their next three games Wisconsin plays Minnesota, at Michigan, and at Iowa.
Michigan State Looking Ahead
Appling and Dawson each look to be out for a couple more weeks. Izzo said of Appling, “I’ve got a feeling that Appling’s out for a couple weeks. I have no idea. I can’t answer the same questions, and I don’t blame you for asking. There’s no break. There’s no stress fracture. He can’t even pass the ball; he can’t move his hand,” Izzo continued, “I’m not going to even think about him this week.” My personal prediction is that Appling will return February 20 at Purdue and Dawson February 22 at Michigan.
The Spartans currently sit in first place at 9-2 in the Big Ten. Their next three games are against Northwestern, Nebraska, and at Purdue. After Purdue, they play at Michigan, a game that could be for the Big Ten regular season championship. Michigan is currently tied for first place at 9-2 in the Big Ten and play at Ohio State and then home verse Wisconsin before they have a week off to prepare for their epic matchup against their rival Spartans on February 23.