Michigan State survives Wisconsin rally
By Jack McCarthy
The Sports Xchange
INDIANAPOLIS — Michigan State scored early and often and built too large a lead for Wisconsin to surmount on Saturday.
But that did not mean there were not nervous moments for the Spartans, who held off the Badgers’ second-half comeback for an 83-75 Big Ten tournament semifinal victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“Man, we had to hang on for our life,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, whose team saw a 17-point halftime lead dwindle into single digits in the second half. “I told our players there no way they’re not coming back.”
Forward Adreian Payne led a balanced attack with a team-high 18 points despite playing late with four fouls. Guards Branden Dawson scored 14 points, Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine 12 apiece, Travis Trice 11 and Keith Appling 10 as the third-seeded Spartans (25-8) reached the Big Ten final for the fourth time.
Michigan State meets top-seeded Michigan in Sunday’s championship game for an automatic NCAA Tournament berth. The Wolverines advanced with a 72-69 victory over Ohio State.
Center Frank Kaminsky paced second-seeded Wisconsin (26-7) with a game-high 28 points. Forward Sam Dekker and guard Ben Brust had 11 each and guard Traevon Jackson closed with 10 as the Badgers cut a 16-point deficit in the second half to six in the final 11 seconds.
Payne hit a 3-pointer from 23 feet on the opening play of the game as Michigan State scored seven straight points to start and then led by as many as 21 on the way to a 43-26 halftime lead.
“I thought we played some of our best basketball of the year in that first five minutes and we built a pretty good lead,” Izzo said. “Wisconsin is very good and Kaminsky’s gotten so much better and I thought we played awfully well, (but) we didn’t have quite the energy level in the second half.”
Payne had 12 first-half points and Valentine collected 11 as the Spartans made 17-of-26 shots from the field (65.4 percent).
Wisconsin tried to dig out of the hole early in the second half, closing to 10 points at 49-39 after back-to-back dunks from Dekker and Kaminsky. Leading 51-41 a minute later, the Spartans padded the margin with an Appling jumper, a Dawson layup and an Appling three-point play to make it 58-42 with 13:52 to play.
Repeated surges kept the Badgers in contention and Jackson’s free throws with 3:45 to play made it a seven-point game at 73-66. Dekker’s jumper with 16.3 seconds left got Wisconsin within six at 81-75.
“We dug ourselves a hole in the first half and we were trying to climb out of that hole the whole second half,” Kaminsky said. “We just didn’t have enough left in the tank to get over that.”
Wisconsin reached the semifinals with Friday’s 83-57 victory over seventh-seeded Minnesota and also gave coach Bo Ryan his 700th career victory. Michigan State advanced with a 67-51 win over 11th-seeded Northwestern.
Sunday’s game will be the season’s third clash between the in-state rivals. Michigan swept two regular-season meetings.
“Against Michigan, we can’t come out selfish,” Dawson said. “We have to play as a team.”
BADGER BITS: Wisconsin reached the Big Ten semifinals for the third straight season and ninth time overall. The Badgers, seeded No. 2 for the third time in program history, has secured a first-round bye in each of the last 14 conference tournaments. ... The Badgers entered the tournament averaging 73.2 points per game, the best ever under Ryan. ... Brust had a career-high 29 points in Friday’s win over Minnesota. He is the 12th Badgers player to reach 1,000 career points during Ryan’s 13-year tenure and entered Saturday with 1,085 points. ... Michigan State’s matchup with Wisconsin was the seventh all time in tournament history and the most for the Spartans against any opponent and the sixth time against the Badgers in the semifinals. The Spartans won the last meeting 65-52 in 2012. ...Wisconsin won the only regular-season meeting with Michigan State — a 60-58 decision on Feb. 9 in Madison. ... Michigan State’s Payne blocked two shots against Northwestern on Friday to become the school’s career leader with 135.