EAST LANSING, Mich. — Using a deft shooting touch from the charity stripe and getting standout performances from a host of different players, the UW men’s basketball team squeaked out a 68-64 overtime victory over Michigan State Tuesday night at the Breslin Center.
After having a relatively off night — at least by his standards — Wisconsin point guard Devin Harris came up with clutch play after clutch play in the game’s waning moments to help guide the Badgers to victory.
Harris wound up notching a team-high 18 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists.
“Well, you know that [Michigan State] did a great job on [Harris],” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “They were switching guys on him, and they were staying really fresh and alive. Devin really couldn’t get anything going where he was comfortable … Really, he wasn’t getting anything off of the attack, but then, finally, things started to happen.”
While Harris struggled to find his offense in the game’s early moments, his teammates were there to help pick up the slack.
UW forward Mike Wilkinson, who would also finish the game with 18 points, scored the Badgers’ first nine points and teamed up with UW reserves Clayton Hanson and Ray Nixon to help lead Wisconsin to a 35-30 halftime advantage.
Hanson closed out the half with a leaning jumper in the lane after a flurry of post moves, and extended the Badgers scoring run to 11-2.
In the game’s second half, Wisconsin would strike first with a tough turnaround jumper on the block by senior center Dave Mader.
The 37-30 advantage would be the largest lead the Badgers would hold for the remainder of the game, however.
With a raucous, Spartan-faithful crowd behind them, Michigan State would come roaring back and knot the score at 39 with 15:15 remaining in regulation.
“You can never duplicate an environment like this,” Coach Ryan said. “The fans here, it’s like the Kohl Center, coming in here it’s loud, it’s a tough place to play.”
The Badgers momentarily silenced the “Izzone” and friends by quickly recapturing the lead with a Hanson jump shot.
But the lead was short-lived, as MSU center Paul Davis would become a one-man wrecking crew on Michigan State’s frontline.
Following Hanson’s jumper, Davis scored the Spartans’ next nine points and recaptured the lead for MSU 48-46 on an uncontested layup with 8:08 left to play.
Michigan State would hold the game’s momentum until the 2:24 mark of regulation, when Davis was carried off the floor due to cramping in his legs.
The Spartan offense rapidly became more stagnant, and Wisconsin was able to tie the score at 52 with just 45 seconds remaining.
Harris hit one of his two crucial step-back treys in transition at this juncture, and the game remained scoreless through the remainder of regulation.
MSU guard Chris Hill had an opportunity to recapture the lead for Michigan State after he was fouled by Wilkinson on a layup attempt with just 22 seconds remaining. Hill missed his two free-throw attempts, however, and Harris’s baseline jumper on Wisconsin’s ensuing possession fell short — knotting the game at 52.
In the game’s overtime, Wisconsin connected on nine of 10 free-throw attempts, including each of their final eight, providing the proverbial nails in the coffin.
During the final five-minute stretch of the game, Hanson connected on two vital free throws and hit a big 3-pointer on a kick-out pass from Harris on the baseline.
“Harris just came off a ball screen, and I flashed over,” said Hanson when asked about his 62-58 lead-extending trey at the 43-second mark of overtime. “That’s an option always in that play. We’re trying, anytime, to just find the open shots and knock them down.”
Michigan State’s loss to Wisconsin moves them to 0-8 on the season against ranked opponents. If the Badgers are able to capture a victory at Indiana Saturday and Illinois loses to Purdue tonight, UW would hold a share of this year’s conference crown.
“It’s a great win for us. We came in here and wanted to do something and wanted to take care of business; we did that,” Harris said. “It was a tough road win. You know, we hadn’t played really well on the road, but today we fought through it. I’m just proud of the guys, and we’ve got one more game to go.”