MADISON -- As criticism around Traevon Jackson's play increased over the last couple of weeks, the junior point guard didn't say much about his game or about the reactions of disgruntled Wisconsin fans.
He made quite the statement Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center.
After Michigan State center Adreian Payne (24 points, 9-of-16 FG) tied the game with a three with 8.7 seconds remaining, Jackson raced up the left side, got a step on Gary Harris, stopped his momentum around the left elbow and buried a pull-up jumper with 2.1 to play, lifting the Badgers to a 60-58 win over the No. 9 Spartans (20-4 overall, 9-2 Big Ten).
"He's the guy that's earned that spot," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "If teams take that away from him his job is to get it to the open guy. His decision-making has been a little sporadic at times, but in a last-second situation, if the ball starts in his hands, I'm very confident we're going to get something."
UW (19-5, 6-5) found itself in nearly an identical situation nine days ago against Ohio State, trailing by one and needing to go the length of the floor in 8.4 seconds. That time, Jackson was stymied by OSU point guard Aaron Craft and the Badgers only managed a contested, ill-fated three-point attempt. Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said then they knew what was coming, a point MSU coach Tom Izzo echoed Sunday.
"Hands down," he said when asked if they expected Jackson to take the shot. "He's done it for two years. That's why instead of putting [Travis] Trice on him, I put my best defender [Harris] on him.
"He made another one."
The Westerville, Ohio, native turned the ball over twice in the last 2:23, but certainly made up for it.
"That's just what [my teammates] expected out of me is just to finish the game," Jackson said.
The Spartans, playing without starting point guard Keith Appling (wrist) and power forward Brandon Dawson (hand), led 22-19 13 minutes in, but were out-scored by the Badgers 11-0 over the final 6:49 of the first half. UW led until Payne's late three, but could never quite pull away from MSU.
Three different times in the second half, the Badgers built leads of at least seven points. All three times, Michigan State closed to within a possession. Still, UW managed to hang on in a rugged contest.
"It was hard getting an easy look," Ryan said. "Collisions and diving and reaching and trying to gain an advantage. There were a lot of good basketball skirmishes going on out there. They'll feel it tomorrow."
Redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser (11 points, 3-of-6 FG, 3-of-5 3-pt., 6 reb.) led that effort for the Badgers. He drew primary defensive duty on Harris, the Spartans' star guard, and did a stellar job. The preseason pick for Big Ten Player of the Year didn't score in the first half and finished with just six points on 3-of-20 shooting. Two of his field goals came on back-to-back dunks midway through the second half. His only made jump shot pulled MSU within three points with 23 seconds remaining.
"It was a full team effort there," Gasser said. "I didn't want to give him anything easy. In the second half when he got those two dunks I was kind of thinking, ‘uh oh.'"
The Badgers had one of their key scorers, senior Ben Brust, struggle in his own right. The Hawthorn Woods, Ill., native finished 2-of-9 from the floor and 1-of-8 from three-point range. He also missed the front end of a one-and-one at the free throw line with 19 seconds left that would have given UW a two-possession lead. It was only his second miss at the line in conference play. Despite his struggles, UW had four players finish in double figures, led by Hayes (14), Dekker and Gasser with 11 apiece and junior center Frank Kaminsky (10).
All three of Dekker's field goals came from beyond the arc, where the sophomore had struggled lately. All three also came when Payne, a 6'10 center, was tasked with guarding him. Now, though, the Sheboygan, Wis., native has hit 7-of-13 threes over Wisconsin's last two games.
"I've never looked at myself as not a good shooter, it was just a little bit of a slump I was going through," Dekker said. "I got a few quick looks in the first half where they sagged off of me a little bit and that's really big for your confidence."
Kaminsky, another struggling shooter as of late, made his first three since Jan. 25 to put Wisconsin up five with 29 seconds remaining.
"That's what makes our unit unique because we're not afraid to take big shots no matter who it is," Dekker said.
The Badgers have been on the wrong end of a couple of hard-fought contests in conference play, but they have now showed resilience, both in beating the Spartans and in putting together a 2-0 week after losing five of six games between Jan. 14 and Feb. 1.