The top 4 teams in the Big Ten reached the conference tournament semifinals, but while Wisconsin were expected to beat Purdue, it was Michigan State that came out victorious from their matchup against 8th-ranked Maryland, heading to the final for a second straight season.
The Spartans finished the season tied for third behind Wisconsin and Maryland in the conference, going 12-6. They won the tournament last year by beating Michigan 69-55, and managed to erase an awful start to walk away with the 62-58 win after already losing twice to Maryland this season. They’ve only played with Wisconsin once this season, but that game also ended in a loss two weeks ago, 68-61 in Madison.
Maryland jumped to a 23-9 lead in the first 10 minutes, shooting 69% from the field. The rest of the way? They were outscored by 18 points, shot just 29.7% from the field and had no answer for Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, combining to score 37 points while Maryland got nothing from their bench and were left answerless once the Spartans found a way to slow down Melo Trimble, who ended up scoring 22 points.
Michigan State opened the game by missing their first nine shots. We came out and played with more energy in the second half. We came back against a great team. We weren’t getting back in transition. A couple of (Trimble’s) 3’s were walk-in, wide-open 3’s. As a scorer, any time you can see one or two go through easy, it kind of gets you rolling.
While Michigan State had to claw their way back against Maryland, Wisconsin also struggled in the first half against the Boilermakers, changing everything in the second half with some excellent defense that held Purdue to just 16 second half points, their lowest output of the season. This time, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker were more involved on the defensive end of the floor, leaving the team-leading in scoring to Bronson Koenig, scoring 19 points.
Purdue were able to hang on while they managed to keep balls from getting into the paint. Wisconsin scored 53 of their 71 points when one of their players got a touch in the paint. Purdue weren’t going to win this game with offense, but the moment their defense stopped being able to follow their plan, their chances of actually causing some sort of upset went out the window, suddenly succumbing to the superior talent the Badgers posses.
Wisconsin haven’t won the tournament since 2008, making the final in 2013, losing to Ohio State in an ugly, 93-point (total for both teams) game. Besides the tournament, there’s also the worry of getting a number one or number two seed, although Bo Ryan insists that he doesn’t really think about these things. You know, I never really have talked about seeds ever. I stay away from it because I want all my energies to go towards the game tomorrow, and then we find out who we play, and then all our energy is going into, boom, that first opponent.