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Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Big Ten Championship

The Badgers are Big Ten Tournament Champions and will be beginning their road back to the Final Four against Coastal Carolina.

Badgers take down Spartans in overtime, win Big Ten Championship

Wisconsin’s Big Ten Championship win gave all watchers a preview of what college basketball in March is going to bring.

In a game that featured everything from incredible offense, huge momentum swings, controversial officiating and an improbable second-half comeback, the top-seeded Badgers (31-3) outlasted the third-seeded Spartans (23-11) in a thrilling 80-69 overtime victory in the Big Ten tournament championship game.

Sophomore forward Nigel Hayes tied a career high with 25 points, senior forward Frank Kaminsky scored 19 and sophomore guard Bronson Koenig chipped in 18 to help Wisconsin overcome an 11-point deficit in the second half to not only capture the third conference tournament title in school history, but also secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a matchup with No. 16-seed Coastal Carolina Friday.

Michigan State senior forward Branden Dawson and junior guard Denzel Valentine each scored 16 points to lead the way for the Spartans.

In total, there were 13 ties and 14 lead changes in the game, with the first half in particular being a back-and-forth affair.

Hayes and Duje Dukan led the charge for the Badgers in the early going, as Hayes scored eight of UW’s first 10 points and Dukan provided valuable minutes off the bench.

Dukan did a little bit of everything for Wisconsin, scoring 11 points (eight in the first half), drawing a charge, getting a steal and recording an assist. He went 4-for-6 from the floor, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range, in the very same building where he served as a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls as a kid.

“I came ready to play. I knew my team was going to need me,” Dukan said. “We wanted to win this, we’ve been talking about it for awhile, and I just wanted to contribute in any way possible.”

Dukan seems to have found his shooting stroke again after enduring a lengthy cold spell in the middle of the regular season. In the past five games, he’s 8-of-18 from beyond the arc after going just 1-for-15 in the previous 11.

But despite the efforts of Hayes and Dukan, the Spartans matched the Badgers shot for shot for much of the first half, and neither team ended up leading by more than five points for the first 28:02 of the game.

Michigan State scored on each of its last five possessions of the first half as part of a 10-2 run, but Kaminsky buried a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the half to cut the Spartans’ lead to 32-31 heading into the locker room.

The beginning of the second half was more of the same, as the two teams continued to have an answer for one another.

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But midway through the second half, the Spartans, who hit 9 of their 11 shots to open the half, used a 17-5 run to build a 57-46 lead with 7:45 remaining.

With his team facing its largest deficit of the season, UW head coach Bo Ryan called a timeout. Whatever Ryan had to tell them worked, because the Badgers suddenly caught fire.

Bookended by a pair of threes by Koenig, Wisconsin used a 14-2 run over a span of roughly three minutes to retake a 60-59 lead, electrifying the crowd to a point where the United Center seemed to become Kohl Center South.

But the Spartans refused to go down quietly, and the two teams continued to trade baskets, setting up a wild finish to regulation.

After senior guard Travis Trice’s layup gave Michigan State a two-point lead with 45 seconds left, the Badgers were saved by a sequence that featured redshirt senior Josh Gasser diving into press row to try and save a ball.

“Josh is willing to do anything for this team,” Kaminsky said of Gasser’s dive into the front row. “That’s just indicative about how he plays basketball and indicative of how much he cares about this team.”

Though replays showed that Gasser appeared to be out of bounds, play continued and Valentine made an errant pass that was intercepted by junior forward Sam Dekker.

A pair of free throws by Koenig tied the game, Dawson’s attempt at a game winner for the Spartans was no good and the Big Ten tournament championship game headed to overtime for the first time ever.

From that point, it was all Wisconsin.

Koenig and Hayes hit a pair of 3-pointers to open things up and the Badgers outscored Michigan State 11-0 in overtime to complete their improbable comeback.

Kaminsky and Hayes were both named to the All-Tournament team, with Kaminsky being named the Most Outstanding Player, and Wisconsin will now focus on the NCAA Tournament as it tries to make a run for a national title.

As far as that goes, count Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo among those that believe the Badgers are capable of it.

“They deserve everything they got, and they proved it because we gave them as good a shot as I think anybody has,” Izzo said. “To get them down 10 at that time of the game and them have enough resiliency and senior leadership to come back, that’s a team that can compete for a national championship.”

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