INDIANAPOLIS – After falling at home in the regular-season finale, a loss that cost Wisconsin the outright Big Ten title, Greg Gard’s players talked about their desire to get back on the court at the Big Ten tournament and play better basketball.
Their lackluster play in the one-point loss to Nebraska was atypical, they said.
The Badgers returned to the court Friday night against rival Michigan State in the Big Ten quarterfinals but if they perform in the NCAA Tournament as they did for much of the game against the Spartans, the off-season could come quickly.
UW shot poorly from the opening minute, got hot in spurts after halftime but ultimately couldn’t hit enough shots or get enough stops and suffered a 69-63 loss to the Spartans.
Box score:Michigan State 69, Wisconsin 63
More:Freshman Chucky Hepburn showed his leadership skills almost two years before he arrived at Wisconsin
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“I know our guys are disappointed, wanted to continue to stay and continue to play,” Gard said. “But not good enough for long enough stretches to be able to stay in the tournament.”
The Badgers (24-7) suffered their second consecutive loss – the first time that has happened this season – and will now wait until Sunday to learn their NCAA Tournament seeding.
UW was projected as a No. 3 entering play Friday and still could open the tournament at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
The Badgers are now 15-3 in games decided by six points or fewer, with two of the losses coming in the last two games.
Michigan State (22-11) advances to face either No. 3 Purdue or No. 11 Penn State in the semifinals at approximately 2:30 pm Saturday.
The Badgers entered the day shooting just 31.3% from three-point range and 42.7% overall.
They posted higher numbers in the first half when they missed all 7 three-point attempts and hit just 7 of 29 shots overall (24.1%).
UW finished 7 of 24 from three-point range (29.2%), 22 of 60 overall (36.7%) and 12 of 21 from the free-throw line (57.1%).
“Just missed shots,” sophomore guard Johnny Davis said. “It happens in the game of basketball.”
Davis, who practiced sparingly during the week after suffering a right-ankle injury in the regular-season finale, was out of sync from the start and appeared to be pressing in the opening half when he hit just 1 of 10 shots. He finished 0 for 5 from three-point range and 3 for 19 overall but still contributed 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m pretty sure their game plan was to try and take away those shots or contest those shots really hard,” Davis said. “But a lot of those shots just were on me, rushed through them or just didn’t get the look that I wanted to.”
Brad Davison scored 10 of his 23 points to keep UW within two points after the first 20 minutes. He fouled out with 50 seconds left and UW trailing, 62-58.
“Every time you have the opportunity to compete,” he said, “you want to be out there for your team.”
Chucky Hepburn added 11 points, Steven Crowl had nine and Tyler Wahl eight.
Hepburn hit a trio of three-pointers in the second half, the first to pull UW within 56-53 with 3 minutes 15 seconds left, and the second to forge a 58-58 tie with 1:56 left.
Michigan State’s Tyson Walker (11 points, seven assists) answered with a basket in the lane; Hepburn missed a three-pointer; and Walker scored again to give the Spartans a 62-58 lead with 58 seconds left.
“That last half against Michigan State we just couldn’t get a stop,” Wahl said.
After a timeout by UW, Max Christie (eight points) blocked Davis’ drive. UW trailed, 65-60, when Hepburn hit his third three-pointer of the half to cut the deficit at two points with 16.2 seconds left.
Walker secured the victory by hitting four free throws, sandwiched around a missed jumper by Davis, and the Spartans were moving on.
“I’ve got so much respect for Gard,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said, “the job he’s done
with a team that nobody predicted. That’s a really good basketball team.
“And I give us credit because I thought we did a decent on Johnny and he is something special. But I’m sure his injury, when he went down there last week and probably didn’t get to practice much had something to do
“So all in all, I’m just excited that we won a game, get a chance to advance and maybe starting to do some of the things we hadn’t done.”
Marcus Bingham Jr., averaging 8.9 points, pounded UW inside with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
“He was getting to his spots,” Wahl said. “He is a heck of a player. He is dominant, long. He was killing us.”
Whether it was Bingham scoring seven consecutive points in a span of 45 seconds to turn a two-point deficit into a five-point lead midway through the second half or Walker hitting two crucial baskets, Michigan State made critical plays down the stretch.
“It’s all those things we did before, well before we got down the stretch,” Gard said, alluding to early foul trouble, missed shots and giving up key offensive rebounds. “Today we were not as good in the first 38 minutes to be able to come down the stretch and put a game away.
“You know, we didn’t lose the game in the last two minutes. There would be 50 things I’ll find in the first 38 that put ourselves in that position.”