MADISON, Wis. Maybe just maybe, America Bo Ryan's players have regained their bluster.
Michigan State, No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 9 nationally, came to the Kohl Center on Sunday afternoon minus two injured starters, including senior point guard Keith Appling.
Wisconsin wasn't exactly rolling, having lost three consecutive home games and five of its last seven Big Ten games after a gaudy 16-0 start.
Wisconsin prevailed in a game that featured careless ball-handling and rushed shots by both teams, rugby scrums for rebounds and loose balls and several huge late shots by the Badgers, who have back-to-back victories for the first time since the first week of Big Ten play.
"They've got a hell of a team," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after watching guard Traevon Jackson bury a 12-foot jumper with 2.1 seconds left to give UW a 60-58 victory. "They went through their tough time. That's what happens in this league."
Jackson's shot allowed Wisconsin (19-5, 6-5 Big Ten) to snap a five-game losing streak against the Spartans (20-4, 9-2) in a game that was decided by three shots in the final 8.7 seconds in front of a raucous crowd of 17,249.
The Badgers led, 58-53, after Frank Kaminsky (10 points) buried a crucial three-pointer from the right wing with 27.8 seconds left. Kaminsky hit 1 of 2 three-pointers Sunday. He entered the day 2 of 12 from three-point range over his previous seven games.
But then came a rare basket by Michigan State's Gary Harris, who was 0 of 7 from three-point range and 3 of 20 overall. That was followed by a rarer missed free throw by UW's Ben Brust, a 94.3 percent free-throw shooter. Finally, Michigan State's vAdreian Payne (24 points, six turnovers) forged a 58-58 tie with a three-pointer with 8.7 seconds left.
After a UW timeout, Jackson brought the ball up the left side of the floor against Harris, the Spartans' best defender.
"I was just thinking we need to get a shot up," Jackson said. "I didn't want to take it to the hole. I didn't want to get it blocked. The pull-up was there."
Jackson used a rub screen from Kaminsky along the left wing, dribbled below the free throw line on the left side, rose up and drained the jumper.
"He's done it for two years," Izzo said of Jackson's penchant for hitting crucial shots late in the game. "That's why I put our best defender on him and the guy made a heck of a shot. . . . Couldn't double him because they've got so many shooters and he just made a heck of a play."
Ryan's players then appeared to forget the clock stopped and the game wasn't over.
Jackson turned toward the UW bench after he hit the jumper and took several steps up the court. His teammates on the court Kaminsky, Sam Dekker (11 points), Josh Gasser (11 points) and Brust (five points) eventually started to retreat as an animated Ryan motioned furiously for them to get back on defense.
"They were playing possum," Ryan quipped, "as my face turned purple saying, 'Get back."'
Michigan State's Denzel Valentine quickly got the ball in to guard Travis Trice (13 points), who dribbled up the right side of the floor without a defender in his face.
Trice reached the midcourt line before shooting, with no defender within 3 feet and fired. The ball hit off the right side of the rim and then off the backboard before bouncing away.
"After practice all the time we'll be messing around and I hit that shot all the time," said Trice, who is from Huber Heights, Ohio, and is close friends with Jackson. "When it left my hand, I thought it was going in."
So did Jackson and Gasser, the latter of whom helped limit Harris, the Big Ten's leading scorer at 18.2 points per game, to six points.
"I didn't have a good feeling," Jackson said. "I seen coach's face on the sideline. It kind of went purple. I started celebrating real quick and he did get too easy of a look."
Gasser, standing in the lane, had the best view as the ball sailed toward him and the basket.
"I could have sworn it was going in," Gasser said. "Thank goodness it didn't."
So where does UW, which moved into a fourth-place tie with idle Ohio State (19-5, 6-5), stand now?
"I don't know if we're on our way back," said freshman Nigel Hayes, who hit 8 of 12 free-throw attempts and had a team-high 14 points. "I know we're moving in the right direction."
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