"I don't think that had anything to do with it," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said of the pressure of playing with the top ranking in the nation. "Michigan State played better."
Especially Drew Neitzel. The junior guard scored 28 points and hit several key shots in the second half to give Michigan State its first win over a top-ranked team since the Spartans defeated Indiana State in the 1979 national championship game.
Wisconsin (26-3, 12-2 Big Ten) now trails No. 2 Ohio State by a half-game in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes play Penn State on Wednesday, then host the Badgers in a No.1-No.2 showdown Sunday. The winner will be in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title and a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
The win also boosts the postseason hopes of the Spartans (20-8, 7-6 Big Ten), who are trying to make the trip to the NCAA tournament for the 10th straight season. It's the longest streak in the Big Ten and fifth-longest in the nation. Only Arizona (22), Kansas (17), Kentucky (15) and Duke (11) have longer current streaks.
The Spartans have also notched at least 20 wins for the eighth time in the past 10 years.
"This is unbelievable," Neitzel said after working his way throw the crowd and heading to a postgame press conference. "It is a chance for us to leave our legacy and our footprints on the program."
The junior guard hit two 3-pointers late in the game that gave the Spartans momentum. One of his shots bounced in and out of the basket twice before falling through, giving Michigan State a 56-51 lead with about 2:20 left.
His 3-pointer just a few minutes earlier gave the Spartans the lead for good, 51-49, with just under 4 minutes left.
"Neitzel hit some real tough shots, just like we knew he would," Wisconsin's Kammron Taylor said.
Marcus Landry led Wisconsin with 18 points. Alando Tucker had 16, only two in the second half.
A tenacious Michigan State defense forced Tucker to settle for outside shots. The Spartans also dominated on the boards, outrebounding the Badgers 41-24.
"That's the best defense I've faced this season," Tucker said.
Travis Walton had 13 points and 10 assists for Michigan State and Raymar Morgan added 12 points.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo soaked up the celebration afterwards, counting it as one of the best wins he has enjoyed on the Spartans' home court.
"I just sat and watched," Izzo said of the aftermath. "It's one of those memory makers, and that's what life is all about."
The Badgers will aim to bounce back against Ohio State in what still figures to be a highly hyped game. Wisconsin already has set a school records for victories in a season, despite having a five-game win streak snapped Tuesday.
"We still have a game to play on Sunday," forward Brian Butch said. "Our schedule doesn't stop because we lost."