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February 16, 2012EAST LANSING -- In January, the Spartans broke a losing streak at the Kohl Center that dated back to 2001.
The Badgers were hoping to return the favor, but a sloppy first half created a hole they were unable to climb out of, losing to the Spartans 69-55. The loss extended Wisconsin's losing streak at Breslin Center to seven games, dating back to 2004.
"As a team, I think we were overpowered," forward Ryan Evans said.
After taking a 12-8 lead with 11:35 left in the first half, the Spartans went on a 14-0 run that was fueled by the fast break. MSU turned three Wisconsin turnovers into fast-break layups on the run. The Spartans had a 15-0 edge in fast-break points at halftime.
"Guys thought they were back, but they weren't," head coach Bo Ryan said. "Turnover, long rebound, that's not the position we normally put ourselves in. That's why we try not to turn the ball over. Right in there, then we're playing from behind."
The Badgers trailed 31-19 at the break. The deficit swelled to 21 in the second half when the Spartans converted four consecutive old-fashioned three-point plays, making layups while getting fouled and hitting the subsequent free throw. The Spartans had an incredible eight three-point play opportunities in the game, converting six of them.
After scoring 28 points in the previous meeting between these teams, guard Jordan Taylor struggled to fill the bucket. He finished with 13 points, but shot 3-for-13 from the field, including 1-for-6 from three-point range, as MSU guard Keith Appling clamped down on Taylor all night.
"They're obviously a very good defensive team, I was just trying not to force anything and keep trying to get good shots every time down the court," Taylor said.
Ryan thought Taylor needed to hit a couple shots early to get in rhythm, but was never able to do so.
"Especially when you go on the road, like he has in some other game, he could get something going early," Ryan said. "I thought he did a good job penetrating and finding people. In the second half, he ended up with five assists. In a game like that, five assists seems like ten."
The Badgers did go on a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to nine in the second half, but the Spartans made nine free throws down the stretch to pull away. MSU only had one field goal in the final 7:43, but the Badgers had dug themselves too deep a hole. Evans finished with a team-high 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting with seven rebounds, but had three turnovers and was not happy with how he played defensively.
"Our guys have some fight in them," Ryan said.
The Badgers were just the third team to outrebound the Spartans this season, winning the battle on the glass 33-30. But the Spartans got too many good looks close to the bucket, shooting 52 percent (24-for-46) from the field, becoming the first team to shoot better than 50 percent against Wisconsin this season.
In the previous meeting, the Spartans had just four fast-break points. While all 15 on Thursday night came in the first half, they ended up being the difference in the game.
"That's something we talk about from day one, from Oct. 15 on; transition (defense)," Taylor said. "That's one of the first drills we do when we start practice on Oct. 15. We had a lapse there ... essentially that run, that spurt was a game-changer."
The Badgers were looking to pull even with MSU in the Big Ten standings, but instead fell two games back of the conference-leading Spartans and Buckeyes. With five games left, a Big Ten title seems far away, and the focus turns to Sunday's game against Penn State.
"Anything's possible," Taylor said. "We're only back two games, five games left for us. It's possible, but obviously we need some help now. For us, that's not how we're looking at it right now. We've got Penn State on Sunday and we have to go get ready for that starting tomorrow."