In a Sunday afternoon showdown, the No. 2 Michigan State University men’s basketball team escaped Madison with the outright Big Ten Title after outlasting an unflappable University of Wisconsin Badgers resistance.
The final game of the Badgers up-and-down regular season encapsulated much of what made this year so frustrating for Badger fans. Tantalizing talent courtesy of freshman phenom Brad Davison, junior Ethan Happ’s oscillation between unstoppable post threat and turnover-prone free-throw liability, costly fouls and questionable refereeing were all fittingly present in Sunday’s loss.
Before taking on the Spartans, the Badgers had put together a nice closing stretch to their season beginning with an upset against No. 6 Purdue University. Wisconsin then beat the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University heading into the tilt with MSU.
Michigan State has been embroiled in seemingly endless scandal for the entire season. Starting with the Larry Nassar scandal, Michigan State has been hit with controversy from all sides. Most recently, sophomore forward Miles Bridges was named in an ongoing FBI investigation into NCAA corruption, though the NCAA cleared him to play this weekend.
Immediately after tip-off, Michigan State flew out to an 8-0 lead. On the first possession of the game, Bridges posted up University of Wisconsin junior Khalil Iverson, missed a jumper, gathered his own rebound and slammed home an emphatic two points to open up scoring.
The first three minutes of the opening half were not kind to Happ, who couldn’t buy a bucket. Before subbing out around the 17-minute mark, Happ went 0-4 with two turnovers.
Davison made sure to stop the scoring drought before it got out of hand. With the shot clock winding down, the Wisconsin guard drained a deep three to put the Badgers on the board. This would be an indication of things to come, as Davison would go on to lead the Badgers with a career high 30 points.
Halfway through the first half it became clear Wisconsin was not going to go away easily. Michigan State’s 1-7 shooting stretch matched up with a 5-7 hot-streak from Wisconsin to allow sophomore Brevin Pritzl to tie the game at 11 with 12 minutes and 41 seconds left in the half.
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As the first half began to wind down, the Spartans started to look as though they were pulling away. Michigan State sophomore Cassius Winston nailed three three-pointers in the span of four minutes. He would finish the game with 20 points and a spotless 6-6 ledger from beyond the arc.
Halftime would see the Spartans holding a seven point lead on the Badgers after an uneventful final two minutes.
By 16 minutes and 50 seconds in the second half, Wisconsin had narrowed the Michigan State lead to three points. The opening minutes of the half featured tight defense on behalf of both teams. At 15 minutes and 10 seconds, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. swatted a Happ shot to the rafters.
At 13 minutes and 26 seconds, Davison checked back into the game and received a huge ovation from the raucous Kohl Center crowd.
He would not disappoint.
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Davison immediately made a fool of the highly touted MSU defense with a step-back jumper to bring the Badgers to within a single point. Davison then sunk a three for his 18th point of the night.
He wasn’t finished.
Davison, who must have been unconscious at this point, tied the game at 42 with another step-back with 11 minutes and 34 seconds remaining to send the crowd into a frenzy.
At seven minutes and 18 seconds, the game was tied at 47, with all signs indicating the game was destined to come down to a Davison blind-folded behind-the-back buzzer beater.
Though things finally got away from the Badgers.
With around four minutes remaining, the Spartans jumped out to a seven-point lead and would not let up until the final buzzer sounded.
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Because of the lackluster season and below 0.500 record, the Badgers will most likely not be afforded a bid to the NCAA Tournament this year. This is the first time in 20 years the Badgers will not figure in March Madness. But a victory in the Big Ten tournament is an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
With the way the Badgers have been playing as of late, including this tough, but hard fought loss against the top-flight Michigan State team, it will be worth it to keep an eye out on the Big Ten Tournament coming up this Wednesday in New York to see if the Badgers can pull something out of their sleeve.