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March 10, 2012

Spartans scrap past Badgers, into title game

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Last week, Michigan State blew an opportunity to clinch the outright Big Ten title.
Now the Spartans are getting a second chance to prove they're the best in Indianapolis.

Draymond Green scored 14 points and had 16 rebounds, and Austin Thornton scored all 12 of his points on 3-pointers on Saturday as the two determined seniors led No. 8 Michigan State past No. 14 Wisconsin 65-52 and into Sunday's Big Ten tourney title game.

It's the first time the Spartans have played for the league's postseason title since 2000, the same year they won their second national championship.

Sunday's game will have two of the three teams that shared the regular-season crown, the Spartans (26-7) and either No. 7 Ohio State or No. 10 Michigan, which met in Saturday's second semifinal. The Spartans split with both teams in this season's two-game series.

And to the Spartans, this is not just another game - it's a chance to prove to everyone they can finish the job.

All Michigan State needed to clinch the regular-season crown was a win at Indiana or a victory at home last Sunday against the Buckeyes. They lost both, perhaps costing them a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and settled for a three-way tie.

That's just not good enough anymore.

In Indy, the Spartans have followed two very different blueprints to consecutive double-digit victories.

On Friday, the Spartans took control early and put away Iowa 92-75. On Saturday, Michigan State had to fight its way back from an early 20-9 deficit, then had to fend off a strong second-half charge from Wisconsin to pull away.

The Badgers (24-9) 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, the Badgers played well.

But when Michigan State's defense started forcing miscues, the Badgers were in big trouble. Thornton hit back-to-back 3s to start a 13-0 run, which ended with a 7-foot hook shot from Derrrick Nix. That gave the Spartans their first lead at 22-20 with 6:04 left in the half.

Michigan State closed the half on a 13-3 run that made it 35-25 at halftime, and continued the surge early in the second half.

Aided by a technical foul on Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, the Spartans extended the lead to 46-27 with 16:52 to go.

Finally, the Badgers rallied. When Rob Wilson missed the second of two free throws, the Badgers grabbed the rebound and Taylor knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to 46-40 with 12:17 to go.

But Michigan State answered with a 13-2 run and the Badgers never challenged again.


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