In the wake of his team's thrilling 65-62 overtime victory over third-ranked Michigan on Saturday afternoon, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan had two big reasons to thank shooting guard Ben Brust.
Not only did Brust's miraculous running 40 footer at the regulation buzzer force overtime and enable the Badgers to topple Michigan, it also saved Ryan from days of second guessing over why he didn't have his team foul on the previous possession.
Wisconsin still had three fouls to give on Michigan's final possession when Tim Hardaway Jr. dribbled the clock down to under five seconds before burying the go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2.4 seconds to go. Had the Badgers fouled Hardaway before he attempted the shot, they could have forced the Wolverines to take the ball out up to twice more and potentially made it difficult for them to even get off a shot.
Brust changed the postgame narrative with one of the college basketball season's most memorable shots so far. After catching Mike Bruesewitz's inbound pass just inside mid-court, Brust took one dribble and drained the game-tying shot as his momentum carried him toward the sideline.
"I just tried to get it off, and it went down," Brust told reporters afterward. "To be able to win the game in OT makes it that much sweeter. There's a lot of games to play in the Big Ten season and we're in the hunt."
The Wisconsin bench mobbed Brust after his shot as the red-clad crowd celebrated in the background, but there was still the matter of the overtime to play. Fittingly, Brust made sure his heroics wouldn't go to waste, sinking the go-ahead 3-pointer with 43 seconds to go to propel his team to victory.
What the win does for the Badgers is lift them into Big Ten title contention and further solidify their chances to finish in the top four in the league as they have every year during Ryan's remarkably consistent tenure. Wisconsin, now 17-7 overall and 8-3 in the Big Ten, sits in a third-place tie with Michigan, one-half game behind co-leaders Indiana and Michigan State.
It's incredible Wisconsin is in this position considering the adversity the Badgers faced in the preseason. Already without star point guard Jordan Taylor as a result of graduation, the Badgers lost heir apparent Josh Gasser to a season-ending knee injury, robbing them of their emotional leader, top defender and most experienced distributor.
It took a month or two for Wisconsin to fully recover, but Traevon Jackson has solidified the point guard position, enabling the Badgers to find their identity again in Big Ten play. They defend well, they don't give up second-chance points and their interior play and outside shooting is just good enough to make up for the lack of a true distributing point guard.
What Michigan will regret as it leaves the Kohl Center is letting a game it nearly had won slip away.
The Wolverines led 55-49 with 6:31 to go before failing to score for the next five minutes, enabling Wisconsin to claw back. Then Trey Burke fouled Jared Berggren trying to take a charge on an emphatic dunk with 32 seconds to go, enabling the Wisconsin center to tie the game at the free throw line.
Many were quick to criticize Michigan freshman Caris LeVert for not fouling Brust before he could attempt his last-second heave, but it's a difficult play to make in that situation.
Brust was going toward the rim when he caught the ball and already had a step on LeVert. Maybe LeVert could have fouled on the dribble, but it's understandable if he was more concerned about giving up three free throws than a contested runner from just inside the mid-court stripe.
Unfortunately for Michigan, LeVert's gamble didn't pay off. Instead Brust sank a shot that won't soon be forgotten in Madison.
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