Wisconsin came out of the locker room looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak in Madison in 27 years. Let that soak in.
The Badgers have fallen quite far this season. From being ranked No. 3 in the nation, with a record of 16-0, to being unranked and looking for an answer or hell, maybe even a miracle on their home court.
The No. 9 Michigan State Spartans invaded the Kohl Center and were looking for their sixth straight win over the Badgers.
But they would run into some trouble…
Sophomore Sam Dekker came out hot for Bucky in the beginning of the game, going 2-2 in his first two looks from three-point-land. He would cool off a bit before making his biggest contribution of the first half from the bench.
That’s right, from the bench, with 3:55 left in the first half Dekker brought the crowd to its collective feet. He did so with numerous impassioned upheaving-gestures after Traevon Jackson pulled up and hit a jumper in transition to give the Badgers a 25-22 lead. Dekker essentially willed the Grateful Red into the game.
The result of the crowd-induced madness would be a steal by the Badgers’ defense. That is the effort, even from the pine, that is to be expected from a leader.
Senior guard Ben Brust had the coldest half of his career going 0-6 on three-point attempts. But that didn’t stop the Badgers from finding success.
Wisconsin finished the first half on an 11-0 run giving them a 30-22 lead heading back into the locker room. Michigan State missed their last 11 shots of the first half.
Nigel Hayes had one of the most complete halves of his career, with 7 points and solid defense. He is playing with immense confidence and it shows. His ability to draw fouls seemingly on command is such an asset to this Badgers’ squad.
The first half featured as many traveling calls on the Badgers in Madison as I’ve ever seen. The Badgers matched their season-average of 8 turnovers per-game in the first half alone. But, they also worked their way into the double-bonus while holding the Spartans without a free throw attempt in the first half.
The second half was a whole other beast.
Michigan State came out and ended their scoring drought, as junior Travis Trice hit a three to bring the game to 30-25 in their second possession of the second half.
Moments later, back-to-back breakaway dunks by sophomore Gary Harris (who previously hadn’t scored) attempted to change the game; pulling MSU with within one 32-31. But the home crowd wouldn’t let the game change so easily.
Brust cracked his goose-egg on the stat-line and got on the board with a slick layup in traffic at the 15:18 mark of the second half. The score extended the Badgers lead to 39-33.
The good times kept on rolling as Dekker found his touch again with a huge three giving the Badgers a 43-33 lead with 13:17 left in the game.
A double-digit lead, but it wouldn’t last.
At 12:33 the Spartans finally got their first free-throw attempt on a three point play from Adreian Payne cutting the Badgers lead down to 43-36. At 11:02 Payne did it again, cutting the lead to 43-39 after another old fashioned three-point-play.
The game was in definite question as the momentum was shifting toward the Spartans.
But, the Badgers’ lead was extended to 46-41 because of Hayes’ heart alone, as he stole the ball from Payne (after missing on the rebound), got fouled underneath the Spartan’s basket and hit both free-throws at the 9:07 mark. A statement play by Hayes. You get the feeling that Bo Ryan trusts him as much he’s trusted any true freshman in years.
After some back-and-forth play Gasser showed his leadership hitting his third three of the game at 6:33 giving the Badgers a 50-44 lead.
The Spartans wouldn’t go away though.
When the senior was needed the most, Brust would catch the ball — with ice in his veins. After starting 0-6 from three-point range he stepped up and hit the biggest shot of the game to date. A three-pointer that extended the Badgers’ lead to 55-48 with 3:37 left in the game. But the Badgers wouldn’t put the game away.
Trice hit a three for the Spartans with 1:43 left in the game, cutting the Badgers’ lead to one only score; 55-52.
With 56.1 seconds left in the game the Badgers desperately clung to a 55-53 advantage. The memories of the recent games the Badgers have squandered hovered over the stadium.
Then Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky launched a three and eased the crowd’s anxiety. Remember him Badgers fans? His quiet game turned loud as he hit a three pointer with 0:30 seconds left in the game. 58-53 Bucky as the Kohl Center erupted.
But then immediately Grady Harris responded with a clutch three-pointer of his own. Or did he? After review Harris’ show it was confirmed that it was only a two-point shot with both of his feet on the line. With 0:23 seconds left it was 58-55 Badgers and they had ball.
Wisconsin inbounded the ball, the crowd on its feet, and Brust would get his hands on the ball and would be fouled. He stepped to the free-throw line in a one-and-one scenario with a chance to give the Badgers a two-possesion lead with 0:19 seconds left in the game.
Against all odds (as historically one of the best free-throw shooters in Big Ten history), he would miss and the Spartans got the rebound — which slipped through Hayes’ outstretched hands.
Then the Spartans set up an out-of-bounds play (Izzo’s trademark) and Adreian Payne hit a three from the top of the key with 8.7 seconds left to play. Wow.
Tie game, 58-58. Who is going to flinch?
The Badgers came down the court and point guard Traevon Jackson, with just over 2 two second left on the clock, threw up a jump shot. Nothing but net.
Sparty would miss its desperation heave at the buzzer and would lose, 60-58.
Cue the celebration in the capitol city.
The two longest-tenured coaches in the Big Ten, Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan, would shake hands underneath the pandaemonium of the Kohl Center’s jubilation.
The Badgers survived multiple runs by the Spartans in the second-half and didn’t buckle under the pressure. Something they’ve done too damn much in previous weeks.
This win, the Badgers’ first top-ten victory of the season, is as satisfying as it gets. Especially with how this season was derailed in Big Ten play after the best start in school history. Beating a Rival always makes for good night of partying, even on a Sunday, expect Madtown to be rocking tonight.
Payne led all scorers with 24 points but it wasn’t enough.
Game Ball: (TIE) Nigel Hayes and Traevon Jackson. Hayes led the Badgers in scoring with 14 points, in which he amassed by drawing many fouls and shooting 8-12 from the charity stripe. Jackson only had 7 points, but two of the biggest baskets; including the game winner. He also chipped in 8 assists.
What This Means: The Badgers can take a deep breath. The Big Ten is a crazy conference where anyone can beat anyone. Extreme parity and extreme talent is displayed in seemingly every game. The Badgers are now 6-5 in the conference, which puts them in a tie with the Ohio State Buckeyes for fourth place. This game is a definite confidence builder and essentially an exorcism of the demons that the last few weeks have haunted Bucky. As purely satisfying of a win Badgers fans could have asked for.
Dark Spot: Wisconsin could have put the game away multiple times in the second half but couldn’t slam the door — and it almost cost them the game. The missed free-throw by Ben Brust, the 94% free-throw shooter, which could have iced the game hurt. But the Badgers won, so all is forgiven.
Looking Forward: The road doesn’t get any easier. Next the Badgers host the Minnesota Golden Gophers, then go to No. 10 Michigan Wolverines and then visit the No. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes before hosting the Indiana Hoosiers. Harsh, but the Badgers should be confident — they just took down a rival they were not expected to handle.
Enjoy this win Badgers faithful, it doesn’t get much better than this. Hopefully this leads to more exciting wins, this team can still accomplish so much.
Here, watch the highlights of Bucky defeating Sparty one more time.