EAST LANSING - Trailing by nine points late in the second half against a team that seldom makes mistakes, Michigan State was showing few signs of pulling out of its season-long funk.
Then Kalin Lucas spoke up.
"The guys had their heads down," Lucas said. "I said, 'Hey, there's a lot of time left. We're going to win this game! We just have to get stops.'"
The Spartans finished regulation on a 9-0 run, then outlasted No. 20 Wisconsin in overtime for a 64-61 victory tonight.
Draymond Green scored a career-high 26 points for Michigan State, and Lucas made three free throws in the final minute of overtime in what might be the game that turns his team's season around.
The Spartans were ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll but dropped out of the Top 25 entirely after a loss to Penn State last weekend. This is the first week Michigan State (11-5, 3-1 Big Ten) isn't ranked since the final poll of 2006-07.
"We talk about having a character check," coach Tom Izzo said. "I've never seen a bunch of guys get knocked down more times than we got knocked down, and in every huddle, they still thought they could win.
"What I like is a lot of people stepped on us and people bounced back. As I told our players, that is what life is like. You better do one of two things, get up and smack back or die. And tonight we hung in there."
Green scored Michigan State's first eight points of overtime, including a free throw that put the Spartans ahead 61-60 with 1:16 left. Wisconsin's Jordan Taylortied it with a free throw with 59.1 seconds left, but Lucas drew a foul driving along the baseline and made one free throw to put Michigan State ahead 62-61 with 30.2 seconds remaining.
Taylor then missed from near the top of the key. Lucas, who finished with 17 points, added two free throws with 2.2 seconds left, and Taylor missed a desperation shot from midcourt.
Taylor scored 21 points for Wisconsin.
"We fell apart," Taylor said. "They turned us over and did a good job of pressuring us."
Wisconsin (12-4, 2-2) was an unlikely candidate to blow a late lead. The Badgers rarely turn the ball over and are terrific from the free throw line - but Michigan State took advantage of some surprising Wisconsin miscues.
Trailing 53-48 with just over a minute remaining in regulation, the Spartans came up with a steal by Delvon Roe near midcourt that led to a breakaway dunk by Keith Appling. Wisconsin lost the ball again on the following inbounds, and Korie Lucious made a three-pointer to tie it with 47.2 seconds to play.
The Badgers looked completely out of sorts on their next possession, which ended when Tim Jarmusz shot an air ball from the corner at the end of the shot clock. Lucas had a chance to win it at the other end, but he decided to go up with his right hand while driving to the basket, and Keaton Nankivil was able to block his layup from behind.
After turning the ball over only 13 times in its first three Big Ten games, Wisconsin gave it away 11 times against the Spartans.
"A couple turnovers there that are uncharacteristic for us," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "But in the heat of the battle, they happen."
Wisconsin started well, content to allow Michigan State to settle for outside shots. The Badgers led 19-7 at one point, forcing Izzo to call a timeout with 8:51 left in the first half.
Michigan State fought back to a 23-20 deficit at halftime despite missing all eight of its three-point attempts. Appling finally made one to start the second half, and Green scored from the perimeter to give the Spartans their first lead at 25-23.
When the game ended, a few fans began chanting "Just like football!" Michigan State beat Wisconsin in football this season, but the Badgers ended up in the Rose Bowl anyway, much to the Spartans' chagrin.
Michigan State's basketball team is less concerned with that and more worried about improving before the NCAA tournament. The Spartans are trying for their third straight Final Four.
"This was important, very important," Green said. "A loss could've changed our whole season."