MADISON, Wis. — As brutal as this winter has been in the Upper Midwest, the last month has been especially painful for the Wisconsin Badgers.
After starting the season 16-0 and climbing to No. 3 in the polls, the Badgers fell into a deep freeze, dropping five of six and tumbling out of the Top 25 before righting their ship earlier in the week with a victory at Illinois.
Most frustrating for Wisconsin was losing three consecutive games at the Kohl Center, something that had not happened under head coach Bo Ryan.
The Badgers, though, finally put an end to that dubious streak, as point guard Traevon Jackson nailed a pull-up jumper with 2.1 seconds to play for a 60-58 upset of No. 9 Michigan State on Sunday afternoon.
“We haven’t been able to do (win at home) for three games and it’s left a pretty sour taste in our mouths,” Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker said. “We couldn’t afford to drop another one here.”
The final sequence was eerily similar to a week ago, when Dekker’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer hit iron in a 59-58 loss to Ohio State.
Jackson was to take the final shot in that game, but bobbled his dribble, which was scooped up by Dekker.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo saw the play and wasn’t taking any chances.
“I’ve watched two years worn of Jackson making game-winning shots so I put my best defender on him and he still made it,” Izzo said. “Give him credit, he has the courage to take them.”
Tied at 58-58 after forward Adreian Payne’s 3-pointer, Jackson took the inbounds pass from guard Josh Gasser, brought it up and launched from midrange as time wound down.
“He’s a guy that’s earned that spot,” Ryan said. “His decision-making has been a little sporadic at times but in a last-second situation, if it starts in his hands, I feel very confident that we’re going to get something.”
Dekker had put Wisconsin ahead 43-33 on a 3-pointer with 13:08 left, but the Spartans came back, using an 11-3 run to get within a bucket with 7:33 left.
Guard Ben Brust had missed his first seven 3-point attempts before finally connecting with 3:18 left, giving the Badgers a 55-48 lead.
But again, the Spartans (20-4, 9-2 Big Ten) fought back and finally tied the game at 58-58 when guard Travis Trice found Payne for the game-tying 3.
“We executed that last 3-pointer as well as we’ve executed any play in 10 years,” Izzo said. “Give Payne credit, he hit a big shot being dead tired.”
Forward Nigel Hayes led the Badgers with 14 points on 3 of 5 from the field and is averaging 15.0 points and shooting 74 percent in his last three games.
Hayes has shown an uncanny knack for getting to the free throw line — a main weapon in Ryan’s offense. While Hayes leads the team with 115 attempts, he has only made 58 percent (67) of his shots but was 8-for-12 Sunday.
“Nigel’s a great player and he’s a great free-throw shooter,” Jackson said. “He can get (to the line) so easily. It’s just something you have to develop as a player.”
Free throws were important to the Badgers, who made 13 of 20, as Michigan State went to the line just nine times and made five while shooting 40 percent from the field.
Michigan State guard Gary Harris had an especially rough afternoon. He missed his first 10 shots before finally scoring on a steal and dunk with 17:41 to play.
“I didn’t want to give him anything easy,” said Gasser, who spent most of his afternoon covering Harris. “He got the two fast break dunks in the second half and I was worried that was going to get him going.”
Harris finished with six points on 3-of-20 shooting and was 0-for-7 from beyond the arc.
“He didn’t take the best shots,” Izzo said. “He got a little frustrated but it will be a good learning lesson for him. There were times we just didn’t have anyone else in there that could make shots so the ball got stuck in his hands a lot at critical times.”
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