Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes were magnificent Sunday, but it was Ethan Happ who scored the Badgers' biggest basket.
Happ took a feed from Koenig and put it in for a pair of points with 10 seconds left, giving Wisconsin a spectacular 77-76 upset victory over Michigan State in Madison.
With a little under eight minutes to play, the Badgers got a five-point lead on a Zak Showalter layup. But that was Wisconsin's last field goal for the next seven and a half minutes. The Spartans went on a 15-6 run over the stretch, with all six of the Badgers' points coming from the free-throw line. Michigan State's modest four-point lead with a half minute to go, though, was brought to one on a huge 3-pointer by Koenig, the last of his four triples on the day.
Wisconsin followed with a terrific defensive play, forcing Eron Harris out of bounds in the final seconds to get the ball back. Then came Happ's clutch bucket to put the Badgers in front. The Spartans couldn't answer, as Denzel Valentine missed a last-second 3, finishing off an incredible upset for interim head coach Greg Gard and the Badgers.
Prior to the game's frantic finish, it was a game of runs. The two teams traded multi-basket spurts in a contest with 13 lead changes. Wisconsin closed the first half on a 10-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into a five-point halftime lead. But Michigan State opened the second half on a 12-2 run and led by as many as six in the period's early minutes. Then the Badgers punched back, using a 13-2 run to build their own six-point lead shortly before the Spartans' aforementioned 15-6 run late in the second half.
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But the story for the Badgers was the herculean efforts of Koenig and Hayes, the lone remaining big-time contributors from last year's team that played in the national championship game. It was expected before the season started that the duo would have games like this, putting Wisconsin on their backs, but consistency has been an issue with so many inexperienced players around them. Saturday, Koenig established a new career high with 27 points, and Hayes scored 25, the two combining to produce 52 of their team's 77 points.
Happ also had a strong game, scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds. The rest of the team outside those three, though, contributed just 11 points.
The Badgers shot 44.7 percent from the field and turned nine Spartans turnovers into 13 points. But the biggest difference came at the free-throw line, where Wisconsin was 29-for-36, an eye-popping total in both makes and attempts. Michigan State was 12-for-16 from the free-throw line.
The Spartans did a wealth of their damage thanks to a 35-25 rebounding advantage, including 15 offensive boards that led to 17 second-chance points. Michigan State shot 47.5 percent on the day including a scorching 59.3 percent in the second half.
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Valentine led the way for the Spartans with 23 points, making four 3-pointers and also grabbing seven rebounds and handing out five assists. Matt Costello had a big game with 18 points and 13 rebounds, his fourth double-double of the season and third in Big Ten play. Harris finished with 14 points, and Bryn Forbes had 12.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Wisconsin and marked the first real big win for Gard since taking over for Bo Ryan, who retired as the Badgers' coach toward the end of the non-conference season. Wisconsin moved to 10-9 overall and 2-4 in conference play with the win. Next up is a Thursday trip to Penn State.
The loss was just the third of the season but the third in the last six games for Michigan State, which is 16-3 overall but just 3-3 in league play. With two losses this week, the Spartans are expected to drop from their No. 4 spot in the AP top-25 rankings. Next up is a home game against Nebraska on Wednesday.