Michigan State thumps Wisconsin
by Joe Rexrode, USA TODAY Sports
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Big Ten championship pursuit continues for Michigan State, and so does its mastery of Wisconsin.
The Spartans got their fifth straight win over the Badgers on Thursday at Breslin Center — a 58-43 thumping — and in the process set up a Sunday of basketball that could result in their fourth Big Ten title in five years.
No. 12 Michigan State (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) first needs Michigan to beat Indiana at 4 p.m. ET in Ann Arbor. The Spartans end the regular season at 6 p.m. at home against Northwestern, perhaps with a chance to clinch a share — in what could be a four-way tie between Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State.
No. 21 Wisconsin (20-10, 11-6) fell out of the race Thursday, with a thud. Michigan State defended well and earned several steals with aggression, but the Badgers also suffered from clanky shooting (29.4%) and uncharacteristic sloppiness (17 turnovers).
Keith Appling, who came in averaging 17.0 points in four wins over Wisconsin in the past two seasons, broke out of his recent slump with mid-range shots and hard drives to the basket. He led Michigan State with 19 points and hit his first three-pointer since Feb. 16 at Nebraska.
Gary Harris overcame early shooting struggles to score 11, Adreian Payne had nine points and 11 rebounds, and backup point guard Travis Trice came off the bench with terrific energy on both ends. They helped Michigan State break a three-game losing streak and get into position, after all the ups and downs, to finish tied atop what may be the strongest Big Ten in years.
Whether Michigan makes that possible by beating Indiana or not, Michigan State did clinch no worse than the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, March 14-17 in Chicago. That means the Spartans will not have to play on the first day.
It also means they could start the tournament against Wisconsin and have to beat the Badgers for a second time in eight days. That may not sound so daunting based on Thursday’s action — Michigan State led by as much as … [For more on Mich. State thumps Wisconsin to keep Big Ten title hopes alive, click here.]