Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan can understand a player having an off night. The entire frontcourt, however, is a little tougher to swallow.
The Badgers shot poorly Tuesday night as No. 13 Michigan State's Keith Appling scored 19 points and Branden Dawson added 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Spartans to a 49-47 victory.
"You can have a guy have an off night," Ryan said. "We had more than one guy have an off night, and it's a one-possession game. That's frustrating because you know you had opportunities."
Though it was a defensive battle for both sides, Wisconsin (13-6, 4-2 Big Ten) took the worst of it.
The Badgers shot less than 30 percent from the field, including 8 of 27 from 3-point range. The starting frontcourt — Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren — combined to shoot 9 of 32.
Wisconsin played without backup forward Frank Kaminsky, who missed his second straight game after being poked in the eye at Indiana last week.
In addition to a solid defensive effort, Michigan State coach Tim Izzo said the Spartans (17-3, 6-1) refused to fall into the trap other teams do against Wisconsin by trying to speed up the Badgers.
"They don't turn it over. I don't care who they're playing," said Izzo, whose team finished with 10 turnovers, one more than Wisconsin. "So we said we have to play like them in that respect. We wanted to run, but we wanted to be solid with the ball, and I think we did a good of that."
It should be no shock the game was a grind considering Wisconsin is tops in the Big Ten in scoring defense and the Spartans are third. But defense alone doesn't explain the offensive struggles for both teams.
The Badgers and Spartans together went more than 4 minutes without scoring down the stretch. Dawson broke the drought, hitting one of two from the free throw line to put Michigan State up 48-44 with just over 2 minutes left.
The defenses clamped down again until Evans' 3-pointer from the wing with 17 seconds left pulled Wisconsin within 48-47.
The Badgers fouled Michigan State freshman Gary Harris. He took his time in hitting the front end of a 1-and-1, but rimmed out the second to leave the Spartans up 49-47.
Wisconsin's George Marshall, who missed practice Monday because he was sick, then drove the lane and was fouled with 3.5 seconds left. But he missed the first free throw and intentionally tried to miss the second, failing to draw iron and giving the ball to the Spartans.
After winning their first game at Wisconsin since 2001 last season, the Spartans have won two straight at the Kohl Center and have a four-game winning streak against the Badgers.
"I just love playing against Wisconsin," Appling said. "Each year they have competitive guys that push me and make me better, so I just look at it as a challenge. These past couple years it's worked out in my favor and my team's favor."
It was another poor showing at the free throw line for the Badgers. Berggren, who came in shooting 76 percent from the line, missed three straight during Wisconsin's second-half scoreless streak, including the front end of a 1-and-1. The Badgers finished 7 of 18 from the line, including 5 of 13 in the second half, and are now shooting 61 percent on the season.
Berggren said it was particularly painful that the missed free throws included two after he went in for a dunk and was fouled during the scoreless stretch, saying he needed to fight through the contact better.
"To get easy points like that and leave those on the board is frustrating," he said.