EAST LANSING, Mich. — When it was finally guaranteed that the misery was about to end for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team at its personal house of horrors, senior center Micah Potter unleashed a primal, three-word scream from the sidelines.
"Let's ... freaking ... go!"
The No. 9 Badgers had finally broken the Breslin Center curse. D'Mitrik Trice scored a season-high 29 points to key an 85-76 victory over No. 12 Michigan State Friday, Dec. 25, but the senior point guard received plenty of help from his friends to help UW end a 12-game losing streak here.
UW coach Greg Gard said he didn't address "the streak" with his team. Not that it needed to be addressed.
"Winning at Michigan State hasn't been done since 2004," Trice said. "We knew that coming into the game and we knew that with all these seniors that we wanted to get it done today. We knew we wanted to get this one really bad."
How important was winning this game to the Badgers? When Gard reached the locker room after UW's 10th consecutive win in Big Ten play dating to last season, his players doused him with water.
"Especially on the road in the Big Ten, it's tough to win, especially against Michigan State, too," UW senior forward Nate Reuvers said. "That's probably one of the toughest places to win at. As you can see, history shows that. They're a very good team and it's a good step forward for us to win that game."
It takes a village to end a skid that long, and the Badgers (8-1, 2-0 Big Ten) certainly got contributions from all over the place.
Aleem Ford scored 13 points before fouling out late in the game. The senior forward got the offense going early and made a huge hustle play late in the game to help UW, which trailed by nine points in the second half, secure its first win away from home this season.
Potter added 11 points, six rebounds and five assists, while senior guard Brad Davison contributed 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. Reuvers was quiet most of the game until taking over during a key stretch in the second half, while UW's bench crew of Trevor Anderson, Jonathan Davis and Tyler Wahl did its usual thing.
"We've got a lot of heart," Trice said. "Obviously, we've got a lot of experience. It really showed today when we got down nine and we could have folded and we could have let them continue to go on their run, but we battled back and we got a lot of guys that can make a lot of plays in big-time moments."
Junior forward Joey Hauser finished with a team-high 27 points for Michigan State (6-2, 0-2). The Stevens Point native showed why he was twice heavily recruited by UW, going 7-of-9 overall from the field, 3-of-3 from 3-point range and 10-of-11 from the free throw line.
The Spartans have dropped their first two games in Big Ten play for the first time since 2007, but Tom Izzo thought his team showed a great deal of improvement from its shocking loss at Northwestern five days earlier. Instead of complaining about his players, Izzo spent a significant portion of his postgame news conference praising the Badgers' experience and the man leading them.
"It's good for basketball," Izzo said of a UW lineup that includes six seniors, four of whom are in their fifth years in college. "I'm a Greg Gard fan. Last year, remember they wanted to fire him halfway through the season and all that? I just absolutely love guys that persevere and kind of don't worry about it, put their head to the grindstone and get it done.
"Those kids all deserve it. Those kids have played together for four and five years. And that's no excuse for us, but you can pull for a team like that. I don't care who you are. You can appreciate a team like that."
Izzo referred to Trice as UW's "maestro," and the younger brother of former Michigan State standout Travis Trice II put on a virtuoso performance.
Trice scored UW's first 13 points of the second half, providing a major spark for the Badgers at a time when the game was slipping away from them.
After Michigan State opened the second half with a 9-0 run to build a 51-42 lead, Trice stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer. He added a pull-up jumper, four-point play and basket at the rim during an 11-2 run that pulled UW even with the Spartans at 53.
"He was pretty much doing it all, helping us stay in that game," Reuvers said.
After falling behind 61-57 on a 3-pointer by Hauser with 9 minutes, 9 seconds remaining, UW scored on its next eight possessions to build a four-point lead.
Reuvers was held scoreless for the first 32-plus minutes of the game, but he did his part during that key stretch by scoring the final six points of an 8-0 spurt.
While UW was nowhere near its best defensively, it buckled down when it mattered the most. Michigan State, which lost despite going 8-for-11 from 3-point range, missed seven of its final eight attempts from the field.
The play that best captured UW's determination came in the closing two minutes, when Ford worked through traffic while hustling to save a ball from going out of bounds. He tossed it behind his back toward the Michigan State basket — a big no-no — but Trice was there to retrieve it.
Better yet, Trice found a streaking Davis for a basket at the other end that gave the Badgers a 77-69 lead with 1:30 remaining.
"Heck of a Christmas afternoon," Gard said after his team shot 52% overall and 42% from 3-point range while producing 28 points in the paint and another 23 from the free throw line. "Just so proud of our guys, how they preserved, how they battled."
After Gard changed into dry clothes, he sat in solitude on a folding chair while looking out on the court where UW had just ended its curse.
Little did Gard know it, but at the same time he was taking a moment to himself while enjoying his postgame Christmas lunch — a turkey wrap — Izzo was singing the Badgers' praises while nearing the end of his own news conference.
"When you're playing a great team, there's not a lot of margin for error," Izzo said. "Make no mistake about it, (UW) is a top-five team. They will be a top-five team the whole season, if you ask me."
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