MADISON – Wisconsin gave Michigan State a good scare on Sunday afternoon with some Brad Davison magic, but ultimately MSU avoided the upset with a 68-63 win in the Kohl Center. The win clinched the Big Ten Title outright for Michigan State. The Badgers record moves to 14-17, 7-11 in the Big Ten after the loss.
“It was a physical game,” MSU head coach Tom Izzo said. “I give Gard a lot of credit…those freshmen are good players.”
Davison battled injuries again on Sunday afternoon, but that didn’t stop him from dropping a career-high 30 points on 10/19 shooting. Davison was essentially alone, however, with only Ethan Happ joining him in double-digits, but Happ was inefficient from the field.
Khalil Iverson and Aleem Ford did a tremendous job of containing Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. Bridges was just 3/15 from the field, but Cassius Winston picked up the slack. Winston was perfect from beyond the arch, six-of-six, to lead MSU with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists.
“I see Barry Alvarez back there, (Iverson) would be a hell of a football player, a hell of a free safety,” Izzo said of Iverson. “He’s physical, he’s tough.”
Nick Ward set the tone for the Spartans out of the gate. Ward locked down Ethan Happ in the post, blocking him twice and creating two Happ turnovers in the opening minutes. Michigan State jumped out to an early 8-0 lead, destroying Wisconsin on the offensive glass.
Wisconsin found their footing, holding MSU scoreless for over four minutes and turning them over three times during that span. Brad Davison hit a couple of tough step back jumpers to get Wisconsin back in it before things got out of hand.
Michigan State went on a 9-2 run to create some separation from Wisconsin. The Badgers couldn’t generate any offense other than Happ backdowns in the post or heaves late in the shot clock. After a 2:31 scoring drought, Aleem Ford banked home a three to get the Badgers back on track.
The Spartans struggled from deep starting just one-of-seven from beyond the arch, but Cassius Winston got hot from outside at the end of the half. The sophomore guard hit a trio of threes in a row for Michigan State to give them a ten point lead, their largest to that point.
Wisconsin held Michigan State scoreless for the first four minutes of the second half. The Badgers turned a seven-point halftime deficit into a tie ballgame just minutes into the half after Nick Ward was called for a technical foul.
Davison stepped up to the line and sunk two free throws to even it up. On the ensuing Michigan State possession, Kenny Goins threw down a monstrous and-one dunk and injured Davison’s shoulder in the process.
Davison left the game and headed to the locker room with the trainer. In true Brad Davison fashion, just a few moments later he re-entered the game and promptly hit two threes and a stepback jumper to send the Kohl Center into an absolute frenzy with each bucket. Davison scored 20 of Wisconsin’s 42 points at that juncture and led the team with two assists.
Davison said of his injury: “I love playing basketball, so whether it’s a bruise or whatever it is, I don’t let it hold me back and I go out there and try to win.”
The Badgers continued to roll in the second half, scoring 20 of the first 31 points in the second half. Brevin Pritzl, wearing #51 on his jersey because of issues with his stand #1 jersey, splashed home a three off of good ball movement to tie the game. The next possession down, Happ backed down in the post for an easy two, giving Wisconsin its first lead, 47-45.
Michigan State’s stars, Winston, Bridges, and Jackson Jr., finally got it going in the second half after the Badgers took the lead. Winston hit a pair of threes and Jackson Jr. knocked down another, and Bridges hit just his second field goal of the game with a midrange jumper. Sparty hit five straight shots on an 11-2 run. Michigan State held Wisconsin scoreless from the field for over five minutes. It was a sequence that ultimately won them the Big Ten regular season title.
Tom Izzo’s squad put the clamps down on Wisconsin in the final minutes. The Badgers went on another scoring drought of two-plus minutes. Michigan State held Wisconsin to just one field goal over the final nine minutes. The Spartans knocked down their free throws to put the game on ice.
The Badgers move on to the Big Ten Tournament next, playing Maryland on Thursday in New York City.