The Spartans still couldn't prevent Jackson from getting the shot he wanted.buried the go-ahead jump shot with 2.1 seconds left to secure a 60-58 victory for Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center. Michigan State's Travis Trice nearly made it a finish for the ages, but his buzzer-beating heave from mid-court clanged harmlessly off the rim as time expired.
Even though Jackson had tallied only five points prior to his final possession heroics, the 6-foot-2 junior was still the obvious choice to attempt the potential game-winning shot for the Badgers. Not only is he Wisconsin's best creator off the dribble, he also has a history of coming up big in late-game situations like this.
Only a week ago, however, Jackson had failed in a similar spot against Ohio State because the Buckeyes ran multiple defenders at him and he didn't react quickly enough before dishing to Sam Dekker for a desperation 3-pointer. This time, Michigan State was unable to send a double team and Jackson made the Spartans pay.
Jackson's game winner halts Wisconsin's rare home losing streak at three and further distances the Badgers from their horrific midseason slump. They dropped five of six games after a 15-0 start but have since rebounded with two straight victories to improve to 19-5 overall and to 6-5 in the Big Ten.
What Wisconsin did well Sunday was defend the perimeter. Harris was the Spartans' only perimeter creator with Keith Appling sidelined by a wrist injury and Branden Dawson out with a broken hand, but the sophomore struggled terribly against a Badgers defense geared to stop him, sinking only 3 of the 20 shots he attempted.
Forward Adreian Payne kept Michigan State within striking distance with 24 points and actually sank a huge 3-pointer to tie the score prior to Jackson's heroics, but Wisconsin mustered enough balanced offense to overcome that. Four players tallied double figures with freshman Nigel Hayes leading the way off the bench with 14 points.
So is Wisconsin's slump behind it? Can the Badgers get back to their winning ways of November and December? Perhaps, but the schedule doesn't get much easier. Minnesota visits the Kohl Center Thursday. Then Wisconsin goes to Big Ten contenders Michigan and Iowa.
More late-game heroics might be necessary for the Badgers to pull out a win or two. If so, it should be pretty clear by now which player will have the ball in his hands.
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- Gary Harris