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Michigan State 64, Wisconsin 61 - Somehow

You're looking for me to say something meaningful here.  It could be gracious.  It could be revelatory.  It could be utterly nonsenical, the kind of onomatopoeia that comes from a play so spectacular or meaningful or both that the only reaction you can muster is to throw your two hands upon your keyboard and LKUASDHF;ALEAWE;HS.   I have nothing.

The facts are these: Michigan State trailed Wisconsin 53-44 with 2:37 remaining.  A 9-point deficit against most teams with that much time left is nearly hopeless; against Wisconsin it seems fatal.  But yet...well, let's go back to the beginning to see how MSU got here.

1st Half: An exercise in frustration to say the least.  Keaton Nankevil, the latest project of the Brian Butch Cloning Center in Madison, scored 8 of Wisconsin's first 19 points as the Badgers went up by 12 against MSU.  The defense was stalwart, and aided by scores from expected (Lucas, Green) and unexpected (Thornton and Payne - and Payne's on a smooth jumper no less!) sources MSU got it within three by halftime.  The half was frustrating for two reasons: one because MSU aside from a couple of set plays could not generate its offense, and two, whenever Nankevil saw a sliver of daylight from behind the three-point line he took and sunk the shot.

2nd Half: Hey!  Keith Appling and Draymond make threes to help put MSU up by three!  Then, trouble.  Before the game it was written that State couldn't allow Leuer, Nankevil and Jordan Taylor to go wild; they went one for three in this regard.  Leuer was held relatively ineffective on offense from halftime on, but Nankevil and Taylor scored 23 of Wisconsin's 30 points in the second half.  When Taylor sunk his second free throw to put Wisconsin up nine with 2:37 left the rest of the game seemed like a formality.

And now we're back.  So what happened that allowed MSU to tie the game?

 - Draymond, meet beast mode.  Beast mode, Draymond. His 3-pointer brings MSU within six, and there'll be much more about him in a bit.

-  Wisconsin takes a minute off the clock, gets an offensive rebound, but can't score.  Kalin draws a foul going to the basket (take note - DRIVING TO THE BASKET IS GOOD.) and goes 1-2 from the line.  Don't tell me it didn't feel like the game ended on the missed free throw.

- Pressure defense, and for the first time I can recall, it works.  Roe strips Leuer, and a couple passes gets the ball to Keith Appling for a dunk.  53-50.

- Timeout MSU, which allows them to guard the inbounds pass.  Again for the first time I can recall, MSU gets Rob Wilson to cave and he steps on the baseline trying to save the ball.  MSU's possession.

- 12 seconds later, Korie Lucious is as close to MSU's bench as possible without being out of bounds. Naturally, he takes the shot.  Naturally, his legend grows.  Tie game.

- Great defense causes a missed three by Tim Jarmusz.  MSU with the ball, and Kalin has as open a path to the basket as Drew Neitzel did in 2006 against Texas.  Nankevil's there though, and gets all ball. 

Overtime: This isn't going into bullet points.  It's mostly a blur for me.  I just remember Draymond doing everything - 3-pointer, good.  Get a lay-up off an offensive rebound.  Get defensive rebounds.  Go 3-4 from the foul line.  By the time the fog cleared, MSU was up 1 with 29 seconds left.  Then came the defensive performance of the season.

Three other Spartans helped, but most of the credit should go to Appling and Roe.  For the first part of the possession Appling denied Taylor room to drive, and a switch found Roe on Taylor.  Roe bend but did not break, and forced Taylor into a bad shot.  Kalin collected the rebound and drained both free throws to make a Wisconsin comeback academic.  

Tempo-free analysis is for tomorrow.  For now, know that both teams had nearly equal turnover percentages and effective field goal percentages.  MSU had the advantages on the offensive boards and going to the line, and despite a free throw percentage that still needs work, they won.  Some may say the Spartans finally showed heart; I think it's been there all along.  

There's still a lot to do on the mental end.  The offense stalls out  for minutes at a time, and is still struggling to figure out how to score in the post without Raymar Morgan.  However, the defense is much better than it has been at this point in past seasons (they held the Badgers under 100 in offensive efficiency), and the scores came when they absolutely needed to, which is an improvement over three days ago.

In these games, MSU's going to need a better performance from Durrell in the future (3 points, but 6 rebounds - 2nd most on the team) but I think his scoring today was more of an aberration than indicative of a pattern.  The post scoring needs to improve - Garrick Sherman's been invisible since Big Ten play started, and Derrick Nix is the big body MSU needs but is a liability against big men that don't post up, and can't give more than 10-15 minutes a game.

Despite that though, Michigan State forced overtime from nine down with two and a half minutes left.  When the shots didn't fall, the defense kept the score close enough to mount a comeback.  In overtime, the stops MSU came when needed most. There's been a lot of criticism - well warranted -  about whether the 2011 Spartan team was a traditional Spartan team.  For the last seven and a half minutes of the game Tuesday night, they took a significant step about laying that criticism to rest.

P.S. - How good does it feel to beat Bo Ryan again?  Really, really good.