How fast can a host of curses turn into a chorus of praise? For those watching Traevon Jackson, it took about 3.3 seconds.
That is how much time remained on the clock Sunday after Mike Bruesewitz rolled in an inbounds pass which Jackson allowed Nick Colella to pounce on, forcing a jump ball. The possession arrow favored Wisconsin, giving the Badgers one last chance to avoid throwing away a hard-fought win at the Bryce Jordan Center against an inspired underdog.
With new life in a tie game, Jackson took the ensuing inbound down the left sideline and swished a 26-footer as time expired to lift Wisconsin (21-10, 12-6 Big Ten) to a 63-60 win over Penn State (10-20, 2-16).
It was fitting conclusion to a conference season that has been simultaneously so exciting, yet so frustrating for Wisconsin. Jackson previously hit a game-winner against Minnesota, not to mention Ben Brust's halfcourt heave that sent the Michigan game to overtime in an eventual UW victory, and a double-overtime thriller against Iowa. And oh, the dunks!
Then again, the low points -- missed opportunities against Michigan State and at Minnesota, plus the flat performances at Iowa and versus Purdue -- added up to cost the team its shot at a Big Ten championship.
Coming into the game on a two-game losing streak, the Badgers appeared to slip back into playing soft for stretches. Penn State was just the latest opponent to show more hustle than the Badgers throughout the game. The Nittany Lions outrebounded the Badgers, 29-27, forced more turnovers than UW did (8-6), and battled back all day, only to lose in a way that underscores that basketball, like football, is truly a game of inches. What if Colella is a half-second quicker and called timeout before Jackson could tie him up? What if Jackson's shot was an inch shorter? Who knows what would have happened in overtime.
Luckily for Wisconsin, this time it was tough enough when the game was on the line. Berggren showed grit returning from two separate rolled ankles to anchor a suddenly suspect Badger defense. The senior forward first crumpled to the ground with 11:30 left in the game clutching his left ankle. After being taped up and reinserted into the game, he rolled the right ankle on Brust's foot exactly two minutes later.
And then there is Jackson, who shook off an awful performance against the Spartans to take control of the Wisconsin offense at crunch time. The lefty used a nice combination spin and up-and-under move in the lane, then another 3-pointer, to twice extend the UW lead in the final minutes.
Jackson finished with a team-high 15 points and four assists. Sam Dekker added 14 points, aided by 7-of-8 free throw shooting.
Wisconsin surprised everyone by getting out of the gates quickly. The reeling Badgers forged a 14-5 lead just five minutes into the game behind back-to-back Brust bombs to start the game and then six more points from Berggren.
The scrappy Nittany Lions would not go away, however. In fact, at times, they could not be stopped.
Jermaine Marshall ripped Bruesewitz to shreds on offense. Sensing his mismatch with every basket, Marshall scored 23 points from all over the court to lead all scorers. His personal 7-0 run in the first half coincided with a five-minute field goal drought for UW to give Penn State its first lead at 20-18.
Penn State took a 25-23 lead in the halftime break. Wisconsin was fortunate to get a whistle and two free throws from Bruesewitz with one second left to stave off some of the Lions' momentum.
The Wisconsin defenders fared no better on Marshall, nor his running mate D.J. Newbill, in the second half. Newbill added 22 points in all.
Though the duo 40 needed shots to score 45 points, their final 10 combined points pulled Penn State into a 60-60 tie with just five seconds left.
Ironically, Wisconsin can thank their uncharacteristically good free throw shooting (12-for-15) for preserving victory rather than the defense and smart ballhandling they usually depend on.
Bruesewitz nailed another pair of big free throws with 33 seconds left to extend the Badger lead to 60-56, but Newbill responded with a quick layup to set up the final sequence. Then Bruesewitz threw a pass out of bounds trying to inbound to Brust that lead to Newbill's game-tying jumper with five seconds left.