Ethan Happ scored on a layup with 10.8 seconds left and Wisconsin survived an open look at a three from Denzel Valentine as the Badgers landed an upset win over No. 4 Michigan State in the Kohl Center on Sunday afternoon, 77-76.
Bronson Koenig led the way for the Badgers, finishing with 27 points and four assists. He hit a three with 25 seconds left that cut MSU’s lead to 76-75 and, after Eron Harris turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds, fed Happ on a pick-and-roll for the game-winning layup.
Wisconsin is in a bad way this season. Having lost three NBA players, two more senior guards and a Hall of Fame head coach in the span of nine months, the Badgers entered Sunday sitting at 9-9 on the season with a 1-4 record in the Big Ten. They haven’t been much better since Greg Gard took over for Bo Ryan during the holiday break, but if there is going to be a turning point in their season, this will be it. Michigan State, when they’re healthy, is a Final Four contender with a National Player of the Year candidate running the show, and they had the Badgers beaten.
It’s not often that you see a team coached by Tom Izzo blow a four-point lead in the final 30 seconds.
So this isn’t just a résumé booster for the Badgers. It’s the kind of confidence-building, come-from-behind win that can spark a run.
At least that’s what optimistic Badger fans should be telling themselves today.
As far as the Spartans are concerned, this is now the second loss they’ve suffered this week, although losing on a last-second shot in the Kohl Center — even if it is to this Wisconsin team — is far different than getting run out of their own building by Iowa. Denzel Valentine, who finished with 23 points, seven boards and five assists, looks like he’s back to being the Valentine of old (although I bet he wishes he had another shot at that game-winning jumper), but there are some bigger issues for Izzo.
Without Tum Tum Nairn, who is out for at least a couple of weeks with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, the Spartans don’t have all that much quality depth. Matt McQuaid started at the point for Nairn, but it was Bryn Forbes and Harris who spent the majority of the game flanking Valentine. Beyond that, Gavin Schilling was the only front court player to get into the scorebook.
The best lineup that Izzo can field features Valentine, Harris and Forbes with Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis up front. It’s not surprising that they get the most minutes, but those depth issues will be something to keep an eye.
But if we’re being frank, there are only two reasons that a loss in the Kohl Center is concerning: 1. It can four days after the Iowa loss, and 2. Michigan State gave the game away in the final seconds.
Their hopes of winning a Big Ten regular season title may be gone, but this Michigan State team is far from dead.