Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan kept searching for an explanation as to what went wrong Saturday.
Eventually, he settled on this: The Badgers just ran out of steam.
No. 8 Michigan State used runs of 13-0, 11-0 and 13-2 to rally from an early deficit and defeat No. 14 Wisconsin 65-52 in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.
"These guys, that was a hard fought game yesterday, that's a hard fought game today," Ryan said. "That 13-0 run in the second half showed me something about our guys. I just, I don't know what we had left. Michigan State obviously had more, but there were some runs in that game that were, more so than usual."
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 an uncharacteristic 12 turnovers, their highest total in five games.
Whether the loss will affect Wisconsin's seeding for next week's NCAA tournament will be determined a few blocks away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
But Wisconsin, which had won tourney titles in 2004 and 2008, was hoping that it could rekindle some election year magic. It didn't work this time.
"You got to shoot better than that, and we had some guys that didn't score," Ryan said. "We need it from everybody, we need bunches scoring and when we get that, we've proven 24 times that we can get some things done."
On Saturday, it was Michigan State proving what it could do — finish the job against a good team after blowing two chances to clinch the outright league title last week.
Draymond Green led the Spartans with 14 points and 16 rebounds, and Austin Thornton scored all 12 of his points on 3-pointers.
It's the first time since 2000, when Michigan State (26-7) won its second national championship, that it will play for the league's postseason title.
"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."
The Spartans' next chance comes Sunday against one of their two biggest rivals — No. 7 Ohio State or No. 10 Michigan, who met in Saturday's second semifinal game. The Spartans went 1-1 against both teams this season and finished in a three-way tie with them atop the regular-season standings.
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 such as Green and Thornton.
Green has 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 the Michigan State defense and the determination of their seniors, particularly Green and Thornton, that helped them overcome the loss of starting guard Brandon Dawson (knee) and kept Wisconsin at arm's length.
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.
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 of the game.
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."