An Eron Harris turnover late, and basket inside by freshman Ethan Happ with 10 seconds remaining enabled Wisconsin (10-9, 2-4) to scratch out a 77-76 win over No. 4 ranked Michigan State (16-3, 3-3), which led the Badgers by four points with less than a minute remaining.
Harris stepped on the sideline after getting trapped in the corner on an inbounds play with less than 30 seconds remaining. The ball was supposed to go to All-American candidate Denzel Valentine.
“It’s hard to figure this game out between the fouls and the lack of execution at the end,” Tom Izzo said. We wanted the ball in Denzel’s hands and we just didn’t execute.”
Wisconsin pulled within a point on a 3-pointer by Bronson Koenig before taking its final timeout prior to the in-bounds play that resulted in a Harris turnover.
“We were supposed get the ball to Denzel and Eron went to the wrong spot to be honest about it,” Izzo said. “But Denzel has got to want the ball a little bit more too. We’ve got to get him the ball. He’s the best player. He’s one of the best free throw shooters, but he’s the best decision maker.”
Harris should have called a timeout after getting trapped in the corner. “We said if he goes into the corner, we’ve got to call a timeout and we didn’t do that,” Izzo said.
Michigan State also failed to execute on defense following the turnover.
"The last one was the worst because we were switching four and we just got some guys that got screwed up and we didn't switch and left (Happ) wide open."
Wisconsin put pressure on Michigan State throughout by getting the foul line with regularity. Free throws accounted more than one-third of Wisconsin’s total scoring output. The Badgers made 29 of 36 free throws (80.1 percent) against the Spartans.
“The fouls and the fouls and the fouls made it hard,” Izzo said. “We didn’t quit. We didn’t die. We actually got on the floor for some loose balls, but we didn’t play good enough to win either.”
Michigan State committed 28 fouls in the game. Harris was one of three starters to finish with four fouls. Freshmen Matt McQuaid and Deyonta Davis were also whistled for four fouls in their respective first starts.
Wisconsin veterans Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes gave Michigan State fits. The tandem combined for 42 points on 15 of 29 shooting. Koenig and Hayes were a combined 19 of 20 from the free-throw line.
“I think the only guy that did a decent job on Koenig was my freshman (McQuaid),” Izzo said. “The other guys didn’t do a good job, but give him credit. Just like the Big Ten Tournament last year, he’s a Spartan buster. He made the big shots and the big plays, and that cost us.”
Like McQuaid, Davis drew a difficult defensive assignment with Hayes.
“He did okay, he did some good things,” Izzo said. “It’s just that all of the fouling. Every time Hayes put the ball on the floor there was a foul so that part was tough.”
The loss to Wisconsin spoiled another strong effort by senior Matt Costello, who recorded his fourth double double of the year. Costello scored 18 points on 8 of 13 shooting. He added 13 rebounds in 32 minutes.
Valentine took another step toward playing at the level he had been before undergoing a procedure to clean up his knee last month. He finished with a team-high 23 points and added seven rebounds and five assists in 38 minutes.
Michigan State struggled to score points in transition without starting point guard Tum Tum Nairn, who will be sidelined for the next two weeks with plantar fasciitis. Nairn, who has been playing through the injury for several weeks, was wearing a protective boot on bench.
“It’s a little harder without Tum in there,” Izzo said. “Then we had Zel in there and he’s got to play a lot of minutes and he’s not all of the way back yet. We knew that it would be hard to get our break going.”