MADISON — The Wisconsin Badgers went toe-to-toe with No. 2 Michigan State on Sunday afternoon, forcing Tom Izzo’s team to play from behind briefly while playing the Spartans tough until the final seconds on Senior Day.
In the end, it was not enough, even with a special performance from true freshman guard Brad Davison, who connected on a career-high 30 points for Wisconsin.
Cassius Wintson’s 20 points on a perfect 6-of-6 from three-point range helped Michigan State escape with a 68–63 win at the Kohl Center.
Davison connected on 10-of-19 shooting, 3-of-7 from three-point range for Wisconsin (14–17, 7–11 Big Ten). Twenty-three of his game-high 30 points came in the second half, a final 20 minutes where the the first-year phenom hit seven of 12 from the field and converted on all seven free throws.
“My jumper felt good, so that was what I was kind of going to,” Davison said. “They have a lot of big guys inside, so the jump shot was kind of what I was going to, but I was just trying to win.”
Though Davison performed well in front of a national audience, he wasn’t satisfied with his output against a top-five squad.
“No. I’m really all about winning, that’s really all I care about,” Davison said. “We were right there. Hopefully, we’re looking forward to playing them again next week [in the Big Ten Tournament].”
Michigan State (28–3, 16–2) clinched the Big Ten regular-season title with the win, with help from Winston and the likes of Nick Ward (14 points, six rebounds). Miles Bridges scored eight of his 10 points in the final 20 minutes but was only 3-of-15 on field-goal attempts for the afternoon, though he collected a team-high eight rebounds.
Redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ contributed 13 points with six rebounds but only made six of 17 field goals and one of five attempts from the free-throw line.
“I think Michigan State sets their defense really well and playing against length like that is tough,” Happ said. “Like coach [Greg] Gard said, they’re two-deep at every position, so they’re rolling guys in there. Credit to Michigan State for playing a good game defensively on me.”
#️⃣2️⃣2️⃣ never disappoints pic.twitter.com/DZn4pcMjU2— Grateful Red (@GratefulRedUW) February 25, 2018
Michigan State took a 34–27 lead into halftime, shooting 44.8 percent from the field (13 of 29). Winston and Ward combined for 21 of the Spartans’ 34 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Bridges grabbed four rebounds in the first 20 minutes but only scored two points in that half on 1-of-7 shooting.
The Spartans out-rebounded the Badgers 24–14, with nine of those rebounds on the offensive end. That helped lead to 10 second-chance points in the first half.
Rebound & score by @Tr33top_T4LL pic.twitter.com/OyTHul6zHi— Grateful Red (@GratefulRedUW) February 25, 2018
Wisconsin only shot 38.7 percent from the field (12 of 31) and 2-of-8 from behind the arc in the first half.
Junior forward Charles Thomas scored six points on 3-of-4 shooting with two rebounds in nine minutes of the first half—playing 11 minutes overall—in keeping UW close, with Happ and Davison leading the team with nine and seven points, respectively.
In the second half, Wisconsin started on a 9-2 run in over a four-minute span to tie the game at 36–36 at the 14:16 mark.
The two programs would battle and stay close for the rest of the game. At one point in the second half, Davison—who had to leave the game briefly to pop back in his recurring dislocated shoulder—scored 11 straight points and 13 of 15 points for Wisconsin. A jumper with 11:34 remaining tied the game at 42–42.
.@BadgerMBB's Brad Davison is a WARRIOR.— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) February 25, 2018
He left the game to pop his shoulder back into place, then did this... pic.twitter.com/ChrkOmCung
“I guess I just want to get [the shoulder] back into place first so I can go out there and play,” Davison said. “I love playing basketball, so whether it’s a bruise or whatever it is, I usually try to not let anything hold me back. I’m just going out there and trying to win, so I just try to not really think about the pain or anything that goes along with it. I just go out there and play.”
“Well, I mean obviously, he’s a competitor,” Gard said later in the post-game press conference. “You’ve heard me say several times and he basically ran by me to the scorer’s table, and I guess he was good to go. The trainers didn’t stop me from putting him in so it just shows who he is.
“And like I said, his mentality and his approach and his competitiveness has become infectious, and I think that’s why we’ve surged here because his persona, his presence is starting to infiltrate in other areas. That’s what you would have a leader--even though he’s still a rookie—leader that they’d all like to look to him to see how he plays.”
Wisconsin gained a lead at two instances with under 10 minutes to play, with Nate Reuvers’s two free throws putting the Badgers up 49-47 with 7:18 left.
That would be the last time Wisconsin would lead, however, as Winston drained a three to give Michigan State a one-point lead just 10 seconds later. Two of Winston’s six three-pointers came within a 2:23 span, part of an 11–2 run to give the Spartans a 58–51 advantage with 4:45 left in regulation.
“I thought we didn’t do a consistent enough job on the glass all day; even the first half, we gave them too many second chances,” Gard said. “Thought we could have been better defensively in the paint, preventing some catches, and obviously that gives them light.
“Also, it was a six-possession stretch from 47–45 or 49–47, we don’t have a field goal in six possessions. I think we had three points, three free throws in six possessions. That was where, obviously when you’re back and forth like that, it was just enough separation that we couldn’t get back and they were able to keep us at bay when it got to four or six. That’s a fine line that we’ve obviously walked all year. I think our line has gotten better in that we can make a surge back, but with a team like this, you don’t want to give a hitter more at-bats.”
SPLASH!@MSU_Basketball's Cassius Winston is 6/6 today from behind the arc. pic.twitter.com/gQ6DheK3rW— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) February 25, 2018
Davison stormed back with five straight points, and a Winston turnover allowed Wisconsin to get back to within 58–56 with under four minutes to play.
With 1:32 remaining, two Jaren Jackson, Jr., free throws gave the Spartans a 62–56 lead. In those final 92 seconds, Michigan State connected on all eight of its free-throw attempts with Jackson and Bridges hitting four each.
Wisconsin had some opportunities, including Brevin Pritzl (seven points, team-high nine rebounds) attempting a three with 46 seconds that fell short. A foul was not called after it appeared a Michigan State defender hit his left arm.
Redshirt freshman Aleem Ford hit two of three free throws with just under 30 seconds remaining, and Davison hit his final three with six seconds left. After fouling on the ensuing inbounds play, Bridges drained two free throws with four seconds remaining to seal the road win for Michigan State.
Though the team finished the regular season with the loss, the Big Ten Tournament now awaits Wisconsin, with a message delivered by the true freshman.
“I just told them we’d rather beat them next week anyways,” Davison said. “We control our own destiny. It’s not college football, it’s college basketball, where the regular season is kind of washed away.
“We control our own destiny. We gotta come back to practice, get ready to improve, ready to get better, and like I said, this thing’s far from over. It stinks that we lost on Senior Night for our seniors, but in our opinion, we got a lot more basketball left to play so we’re going to keep working, get healthy, continue to improve and make a run at this thing.”