MADISON -- Time after time this season, the Wisconsin Badgers have walked off the court on the wrong side of a close contest.
Trailing by four with under 30 seconds to play against the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans at the Kohl Center on Sunday, they made a point to be the ones celebrating a last-minute victory.
Extraordinary efforts from Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes put the Badgers in a position to pull off the upset and Ethan Happ's game-winning layup through traffic with 10 seconds left finished off the effort as the Badgers (10-9, 3-4 Big Ten) defeated the Spartans 77-76.
"Just pure joy, really," Happ said. "We've been on the wrong side when [Maryland's Melo Trimble] hit that three. We've had a couple of tough losses in a row, then to beat a team like Michigan State, it was really joyful to share that with my teammates."
The Badgers' four Big Ten losses had come by a combined 16 points, including the Trimble three-pointer at the buzzer that gave No. 3 Maryland a win at the Kohl Center last Saturday.
"Experience is always a great teacher," interim head coach Greg Gard said.
On Sunday, it looked like Wisconsin learned its lesson. The Badgers matched Michigan State's toughness, dominated at the free-throw line and executed to a 'T' when they had to.
Koenig poured in a career-high 27 points and came through at the end.
"You got a good point guard, you put the ball in his hands and let him make a play," Gard said. "It's not a secret."
Trailing 76-72 with the shot clock winding down and Denzel Valentine's hand in his face, Koenig buried his fourth three of the game to pull Wisconsin to within one point with 26.8 seconds left.
Khalil Iverson and Happ forced a trap on the sideline, causing Eron Harris to step out of bounds to set up the Badgers for a chance to win.
Koenig took the inbounds pass, dribbled to his right off a pair of screens and found an open Happ cutting through the lane. The junior guard took an extra dribble to get the separation needed to feed the ball inside, setting up Happ for the winner.
"Ran a double screen high and coming across the screen, I could see that he would be open," Koenig said. "It was kind of a late pass. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to get it to him on time. Luckily, he caught it and I knew he was going to finish it."
Valentine, who scored 23 points and drained four threes against the Badgers on the afternoon, pushed the ball and pulled up for a triple to win the game. The shot went long, the buzzer sounded and the Kohl Center both exhaled and exploded at once.
Hayes scored 25 points and grabbed seven boards and Happ finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Badgers were aggressive from start to finish. They forced 28 personal fouls on Michigan State, which led to 36 free throws. Wisconsin made 29 of them, led by a 9-of-10 showing by Hayes. Koenig was perfect on his seven attempts and Happ made eight of 13.
"It's extremely important," Hayes said of Wisconsin's ability to get to the line. "We were told going in to match their toughness... we matched that. We tried to turn their aggression against them. We shot a hefty amount of free throws."
A back-and-forth contest throughout, there were 13 lead changes, with both team's biggest lead being six points.
After the Badgers went into the half up 41-36, Michigan State responded quickly.
The Spartans opened up a six-point lead, their largest of the game, at 52-46. Hayes then took charge, scoring seven points in a 9-2 Wisconsin run to go back on top.
Happ and Hayes opened up the lead to 62-56 with 9:18 to play, but a patented cold spell saw the Badgers go scoreless and get stuck at 68 points for 4:26 as Michigan State regained the advantage.
Consecutive runners by Valentine put the Badgers in a 76-72 hole with 1:53 remaining, but the Spartans would only get two shots off the rest of the way, missing both.
The Badgers trailed 36-31 when Hayes went to the bench with his second foul and Valentine hit two free throws with 3:16 to go in the first half. Without their top scorer on the season, all the Badgers did was hit eight consecutive free throws to spark a 10-0 run to close out the half with a 41-36 lead.
Wisconsin drew contact early and often in the paint against Michigan State defenders. The Badgers were in the double bonus with 6:26 remaining in the first half, leading to 19 free throws after shooting just 23 over their last two games combined.