MADISON -- The fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers played their last home game of the season Sunday afternoon against the Michigan State Spartans with a share of the Big Ten title on the line. Entering the weekend on an eight-game home winning streak in conference play and honoring four players on Senior Day, the Badgers picked up a 68-61 win at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin's two winningest players in school history – Josh Gasser and Duje Dukan – added to their total of 109 career wins. They were honored before the game along with fellow seniors Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson before clinching the 18th Big Ten regular-season title in school history.
In the first half, the Badgers established a significant defensive and post presence. Michigan State started 1-of-8 from the field, but was able to take the lead with 11:19 remaining after hitting a flurry of shots from beyond the arc to go on an 9-2 run. The Badgers then responded by establishing themselves inside as they went on a 15-6 run.
The inside dominance was due in large part to Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes, who scored the team’s first 19 points. The Badgers led 36-25 at the half, scoring 24 of their points in the paint and out-rebounding the Spartans 18-9.
"Nigel had some great counters, Frank had some great counters," Ryan said. "The two of them in the first half, that was quite a show they put on with their post moves."
The Badgers' philosophy didn't change much in the second half. Wisconsin jumped out to an 11-2 run in the first five minutes and run extended their lead to 22 points. During that span, a very displeased Michigan State coach Tom Izzo picked up a technical foul after seemingly arguing with a referee.
Wisconsin continued to outmatch Michigan State by grabbing rebounds and scoring in the paint. UW also received outstanding output from its starters. While much has been made recently about the team’s lack of depth, the Badgers' starters had no issue carrying the load in the game by scoring 66 of the team’s 68 points. Michigan State’s starters struggled to do the same with only 26 of their 61 points coming from their starting five.
The Badgers dominated for almost the entire game, only allowing Michigan State to lead for nine seconds total. Though the Spartans made a late run, the lead was never in jeopardy.
The newly-crowned Big Ten champions registered 34 points in the paint, 10 second-chance points and out-rebounded the Spartans 35-24. Wisconsin played great defense, holding Michigan State to 15-of-36 from inside the perimeter. Michigan State, and more specifically Bryn Forbes, who was 5-of-5, was only able to stay in the game because of a 9-of-17 effort from three-point range.
"I thought we did a real good job misdirecting, ball fakes, getting the ball into the post, putting guys in position to score," Ryan said. " Then, individually, the players still had to make the moves."
In the end, the Badgers captured a seven-point victory spearheaded by a 31-point, eight-rebound performance by Kaminsky that was worthy of his national player of the year hype. Hayes added 14 points and four rebounds while Sam Dekker and Gasser contributed nine and eight points, respectively.
"I don't have to worry about Frank," Ryan said. "I don't have to worry about any of these guys, but he was ready to play. He was not going to be denied."
"It was my last game here and I wanted to do something special," Kaminsky added. "I knew at the end of the day, I wanted to become a really good player, win a Big Ten championship, make it to the Final Four and do a lot of different things in my time here because four years goes by real fast."
Izzo said he was also impressed by Kaminsky,saying he was not only the best player in the Big Ten for quite some time, but also the best player in the country. He compared both Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor, the other player-of-the-year favorite, but said that there is no doubt in his mind that Kaminsky is the better of the two because of his versatility.
"[Kaminsky] is just phenomenal right now and I just think he does it so many different ways," Izzo said. "He's become a better passer, he's become a guy that just has a knack to draw the defense in.
"I've never been more impressed with a player in our league maybe other than 'Big Dog' [Glenn Robinson of Purdue] back in the day. Kaminsky is no question the best player in the country this year."
The Badgers will next face the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis on Thursday.