Revenge was on the minds of every single Spartan in the Breslin Center on Thursday night, especially the ones on the hardwood. Wisconsin (16-10, 8-5) dealt Michigan State (22-5, 9-5) a crushing blow in Madison in January, edging the Spartans by one point on a last-second layup.
Thanks in large part to Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine and his all-around brilliance, MSU got their revenge. The Badgers limped out of the Breslin Center after losing 69-57.
“That was a big win against a very good team and they’re playing so much better than the first time we played them if you ask me,” said Coach Izzo.
Wisconsin star Nigel Hayes had a tough night. Tough might be an understatement. He had an awful night.
Freshman Deyonta Davis was tasked with guarding the preseason All-American and did a flawless job. Hayes hit just one of seven shots in the first half, with that lone jumper coming over Valentine, not Davis. You know it’s bad when the home crowd cheers when an opposing player comes back into the game, and that’s exactly what they did to Hayes.
The Badgers’ offense was futile in the first half, opening the game shooting 3-18. A nine point lead quickly opened up for MSU in the early minutes and eventually grew to 16 before the half was done. Valentine scored or assisted on the first 23 Spartan points, an unprecedented streak.
Valentine makes a sportswriter’s job easy. Just write that he nearly reached a triple-double every time and it’s right most nights. The senior finished with 24 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. Buddy Hield should be on high alert.
Ethan Happ was the lone bright spot for the Badgers. The redshirt freshman led the team with 18 points. Junior guard Bronson Koenig chipped in with 12 and four assists. Hayes’ brutal night mercifully ended after a 1-13 performance.
Junior forward Gavin Schilling had one of his best games of the season after being quiet as of late. He nabbed five boards to go along with six points, three assists and three steals.
“He’s been working hard over this last month,” said Valentine, “and he’s been in the gym with Coach Garland working on his post moves, watching extra film. He’s getting what he deserves right now, he’s playing better, he’s working harder, he’s listening.”
Not to be overshadowed is the shooting performance of senior guard Bryn Forbes. He drained four from deep to finish with 17 points and four rebounds. The Sexton Connection of Valentine and Forbes had as many threes (six) as the entire Wisconsin team.
Davis led all Spartans in rebounding with nine on the night. The freshman saw 29 minutes of action, 11 more than his average due to the absence of Kenny Goins. It was one of the most impressive all-around performances of Davis’ young career, but Valentine expects more.
“We just kept in his head that he can impact the game more,” said Valentine. “We feel like he’s impacting it only to a certain extent, but what he did today, he can do that every night. He just has to make it important to him. Draymond (Green) was here Monday and he was talking to him about that too that he can impact the game better if he comes out and plays hard. That’s it, that’s all he has to do is play hard.”
With the win, Sparty moves into a four-way tie for fourth in the Big Ten with Purdue, Michigan and Ohio State, two games back of first place. Maryland’s shocking loss to Minnesota offered a glimmer of hope to MSU.
“That Nebraska game was really key,” said Valentine of the loss earlier this season, “giving up that game to Purdue, Wisconsin the first time. If we would’ve won one of those we’d be one down playing for the Big Ten. But you never know what can happen in these next few games, I mean three, four and five lost last night.”
Up next for MSU is a trip to Columbus on Tuesday for a matchup with the “Jekyll and Hyde” Buckeyes, as Coach Izzo described them. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. and the game can be seen on ESPN.