Michigan State’s Draymond Green didn’t let go of the disappointment from last week’s loss to Ohio State.
Instead, he used it as motivation for the Big Ten tournament.
Green finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds, and Austin Thornton scored all 12 of his points on 3-pointers Saturday, leading No. 8 Michigan State past No. 14 Wisconsin 65-52 and into its first conference title game since 2000.
”It’s just another opportunity for us. We had two chances to win the Big Ten outright, we didn’t do it,” Green said. ”You can’t really make up for it, but it’s an opportunity to feel better about it if we get this conference tournament championship. It’s just another way to leave that footprint, leave your legacy.”
After finishing the regular season with consecutive losses at Indiana and at home against the Buckeyes, defeats that might have cost Michigan State (26-7) a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Spartans intend to take full advantage of a third opportunity to prove it is the Big Ten’s best team.
The Spartans next chance comes Sunday against No. 7 Ohio State, a 77-55 winner over No. 10 Michigan in Saturday’s second semifinal game. The Spartans beat the Buckeyes in Columbus, then lost on William Buford’s basket with one second left last week in East Lansing. All three teams finished with a share of the Big Ten’s regular-season crown.
To the Spartans, this is not just another game — it intends to finish the job.
”Definitely want to break the tie,” said Green, the Big Ten Player of the Year.
Whether it matters in the NCAA selection committee’s ultimate decision-making process is still up for debate. A top seed might be tough to come by.
But sharing titles isn’t good enough anymore for seniors like Green and Thornton.
Green has now recorded double-doubles in both of the Spartans double-digit tourney wins, and the Spartans followed two different blueprints to essentially get the same outcome. They took control early against Iowa and pulled away for a 92-75 victory.
On Saturday, it was defense that sparked Michigan State’s first-half comeback and kept Wisconsin at arm’s length.
The determination of the seniors, particularly Green and Thornton, helped the Spartans overcome the loss of starting guard Brandon Dawson who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
Green also had five assists and three blocks. He moved into second place on the school’s career rebounding list, too, with 1,046, 10 more than Johnny Green.
But Badgers coach Bo Ryan said Wisconsin’s problems were mostly self-inflicted.
”We didn’t do what we talked about in the scouting report as a unit, so we paid,” Ryan said. ”I just don’t know what we had left. Michigan State obviously had more.”
The Badgers were led by Jordan Taylor with 19 points and Ryan Evans with 18 but shot just 34.7 percent from the field and committed 12 turnovers, their highest total in five games.
Initially, things didn’t go well for the Spartans, who trailed 20-9 midway through the first half.
After coach Tom Izzo called a timeout, Green and Thornton changed the whole complexion.
The combination of suffocating defense, Green’s rebounding and Thornton’s 3s quickly got Michigan State back in the game, and when Derrick Nix ended a 13-0 run with a 7-foot hook shot, the Spartans finally had their first lead at 22-20 with 6:04 left in the half.
Michigan State then closed the half on a 13-3 run to make it 35-25 at the half.
”He felt that we were a little bit lethargic there and it showed in our play, and he’s a spitfire, he got us going, he did his job,” Thornton said. ”We responded well and glad to come out with a win.”
The surge continued into the second, and when Ryan drew a technical foul, the Spartans suddenly led 46-27 with 16:52 to go.
Wisconsin finally rallied closing to 46-40 when Taylor converted a missed free throw into a 3-pointer with 12:17 left.
But with Green leading the way, Michigan State went on a 13-2 run that knocked out the Badgers and sent the Spartans to their first Big Ten title game since winning their last national championship.
”You always want to set yourselves apart from everybody else, but when you get to this point of the season, one-and-done is the motivation,” Green said. ”We’re trying to get another championship and hang another banner. We have to ratchet it up more.”