That both Big Ten contenders broke with tradition on Tuesday night produced one of the more surprising and potentially meaningful comebacks of the college basketball season.
Trailing by nine points with 2 1/2 minutes to go and on the verge of a second straight Big Ten loss, Michigan State stormed back to force overtime behind suffocating defensive pressure and key threes from Korie Lucious and Draymond Green. Then Green and Kalin Lucas scored all 11 of the Spartans' overtime points, propelling the Spartans to a crucial 64-61 victory over the Badgers.
It's too soon to say that Michigan State saved its season with its improbable late rally, but there's no doubt the backlash would have been fierce after another home loss. The underachieving Spartans began the season ranked No. 2 in the nation yet had already suffered five losses, most recently a shocking road setback at undermanned Penn State.
The key to the Michigan State comeback was the rest of the Spartans finally matching the defensive intensity of Delvon Roe, who had limited Wisconsin star forward Jon Leuer to a quiet 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting. As further proof, take a look at the results of Wisconsin's final five possessions of regulation after taking a 53-44 lead with 2:36 to play:
• 2:01: Guard Jordan Taylor forces a contested mid-range jump shot off the dribble that rims out.
• 1:39: Green blocks Rob Wilson's ill-advised transition layup attempt at the rim with 28 seconds left on the shot clock.
• 1:08: Roe strips Leuer near mid-court, leading to a transition dunk that trims the Wisconsin lead to three.
• 1:00: Full-court pressure on the ensuing inbound play from Michigan State causes a rushed a pass toward the corner to Wilson, who can't catch it cleanly and steps out of bounds trying to save it for a turnover.
• 0:13: Taylor's drive off a high ball screen is well-defended by Michigan State, resulting in Tim Jarmusz air-balling a contested corner three at the shot clock buzzer for a third straight turnover.
One of the keys for Michigan State going forward will be whether it can defend and rebound like that more consistently the rest of the season.
The Spartans have been in a season-long funk so far. Maybe this comeback victory will be what shakes them out of it.