Fans of the red and the green knew a slugfest was in store Sunday afternoon, and they got what they paid for. Michigan State and Wisconsin squared off at the United Center with a conference title and bragging rights on the line.
Badger redshirt senior guard, Josh Gasser, sank a three to put the Badgers up five with five minutes to play in the first half.
With the predominantly red crowd on its feet, the Spartans proceeded to go on a 12-3 run capped off by freshman forward Marvin Clark Jr’s. tip-in.
Despite being undersized once again, MSU won the points in the paint battle 36-20. The Spartans also dominated the glass 32-23.
The second half was some of the most entertaining basketball of the season. Both teams traded punches and no one could pull away.
Junior guard, Denzel Valentine recovered nicely from his off night against Maryland. He nailed a corner three to give the Spartans a seven-point lead with just under 12 minutes to play. MSU went on an 8-9 shooting streak on their run, which eventually reached 11.
“We were down 11 and they thought they had it in the bag, but I kept reminding my teammates that we were never going to give up,” Wisconsin sophomore guard Bronson Koenig said. The sophomore finished with 18 points, including four three-pointers.
Tom Izzo’s squad kept their foot on the gas pedal, extending their lead to seven on a rim-rocker from senior forward, Branden Dawson, with 7:44 left. The Spartans were incredibly efficient from the field, shooting 50.9 percent and perfect from the line.
The Badgers proceeded to remind everyone why they were the best team in the Big Ten in the regular season, going on a 14-2 run to slash the MSU lead and pull ahead with four minutes remaining.
National Player of the Year candidate and senior forward, Frank Kaminski, sunk a wide open three-pointer with 1:44 to go and put the Badgers back on top by three. Valentine quickly responded with a long bomb of his own.
With less than 30 seconds left in the game, Gasser “saved” a ball from going out of bounds (and ran into me in the process) which led to a huge Wisconsin bucket, but video replay showed his foot was on the line.
A Dawson baseline jumper came close to falling as time expired, but overtime was in the cards.
“I thought we played one of the greatest games we’ve played for…35, 36 minutes,” head coach Tom Izzo said after the game, “and then we made a couple mistakes and they made a couple of great shots and that’s the way the game goes.”
Two threes by sophomore forward, Nigel Hayes, and Koenig gave the Badgers a six-point lead to start overtime. They would not relinquish their edge in the extra frame after that as Wisconsin would win and captured the Big Ten title 80-69.
“We had a couple mistakes where we fell apart, but we’re proud of the way we played,” senior guard Travis Trice said.
Dawson and Trice were named to the All-Tournament team along with Hayes, Kaminsky and senior guard DJ Newbill of Penn State. MSU received a seven-seed in the NCAA Tournament and Wisconsin a one-seed. Kaminski also earned most outstanding player honors.
“I’m pleased for Branden,” Izzo said. “I’m the first to push him. I’m the first to hug him, and today was a day where the guy gave me everything he had.”
Valentine flirted with a triple-double, going for 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Dawson had 16 points and seven rebounds, and junior guard Bryn Forbes added 10.
Trice was held in check the entire game, only scoring six points on 2-8 shooting. Hayes led all scorers with 25 points and grabbed five boards. Kaminsky had 19 and five rebounds.
“That’s a very, very, very good basketball team we played, deserving of all the accolades that all of them have got…and they proved it because we gave them as good a shot as I think anybody has,” Izzo said. “To get them down 10 at that time of the game and them have enough resiliency and senior leadership to come back, that’s a team that can compete for a national championship.”
Blake Froling is the co-host of Impact Izzone and a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.