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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Davison MSU

Freshman guard Brad Davison shot just 4-of-14 from the field as his phenomenal freshman season came to an end in a 60-63 loss to No. 1-seed Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament.

Davison's magic runs out as Michigan State ends Badgers' NCAA Tournament hopes

NEW YORK — As Brad Davison walked off the court for the final time in the 2017-’18 season, head coach Greg Gard was right by his side. Davison put his left arm around Gard’s right shoulder. Gard reciprocated, draping his right arm on his freshman point guard’s heavily wrapped left.

“I’m sorry,” Davison told his head coach as the duo walked into the tunnel.

Moments earlier, as the final buzzer sounded with the scoreboard showing Michigan State 63 - Wisconsin 60, Davison curled over and put his hands on his knees in disbelief. In the handshake line, redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ wrapped a towel around his neck. Happ alternated between having his hands on his head and on his ears as he walked off the floor for what might be his last time in a Badgers uniform.

In the locker room, junior forward Khalil Iverson sat a bit hidden behind a black Sony television, with his hood up and the neckline of his sweatshirt near his split lip as reporters entered. Redshirt senior Aaron Moesch fought back tears, his eyes watery and career behind him.

On the whiteboard sitting idle in the center of Wisconsin’s locker room, the phrase “BE SPECIAL” remained underlined and un-erased.

But any kind of magical March run ended abruptly Friday afternoon as Davison’s last ditch 3-point attempt came up short. In turn, UW’s 19-year NCAA Tournament appearance streak was snapped. The No. 1-seed Spartans (17-2 Big Ten, 29-3 overall) advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals while a No. 9-seed Wisconsin (8-12, 15-18) team led by an unlikely duo — Davison and Happ — was left wondering what could have been.

Foul trouble plagued Happ, Davison and the rest of the Badgers in the first half. Happ picked up his second foul with 8:04 to play in the period and, just over four minutes later, Davison was whistled for his second foul as well. As a consequence, UW was forced to survive for three-plus minutes without either of its leaders on the floor.

The Spartans took full advantage of the duo’s absence as they went on a 10-3 run to close the half and led 32-28 heading into the locker room.

A 10-0 Badgers’ spurt that began just under three minutes after play resumed gave UW a four-point cushion. But Michigan State answered with a 7-0 flurry of its own to take the lead back with 11:48 to play in the game.

Michigan State led for more than 23 minutes Friday night as Wisconsin tried to persevere and remain in striking distance.

But Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston continued to break down what had been a more consistent Badgers defense, and with five minutes to play, MSU led by seven points.

Gard, reflecting on UW’s season after the game, said that “by the time we got out of the nest, so to speak, it was a little too late.”

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The same can be said of Wisconsin’s last gasp effort, as the Badgers missed their final three free throws of the season. And even after Bridges missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 27 seconds to go, finishing with 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting, the Badgers’ final shot came up feet short.

On the play, Michigan State pressured Davison and Wisconsin’s initial set broke down. Mere feet from the spot where, last March, Zak Showalter hit a running, one-legged 3-pointer to send the Badgers into overtime against Florida, the freshman’s attempt was not graced by the same stroke of luck.

“I gotta make the play at the end,” Davison said. “I didn’t. The ball was in my hands. That is my responsibility.”

All season long, while Happ continued to guide Wisconsin’s offense, Davison grew into a vital force on and off the court. Friday, while Happ finished with a game-high 22 points and added five rebounds, Davison was trusted to make the most important play of UW’s season.

He spoke in the locker room after an early season blowout to Ohio State about what playing at Wisconsin represented. Last Sunday, after the Badgers fell to the Spartans to conclude the regular season, he addressed the team as well.

“We’d rather beat them next week, anyways,” he told them.

Happ remained by Davison’s side through it all, whether Wisconsin was in the midst of losing eight games in nine tries, or a late three-game winning streak toward the end of the season. After every contest, no matter the result, Happ said they reminded each other of the importance of staying together.

“I help him out. He helps me out,” Happ said.

Happ will now have a decision to make about his future. He said moments after UW’s loss that he plans to enter the NBA Draft, but that depending on the feedback he receives, he might come back to Wisconsin.

As the Badgers’ locker room cleared out and many of the players exited, Happ and Davison remained and continued to field questions about their future.

They sat across from each other: Happ with a towel still around his neck. Davison fighting back tears.

“I don’t know where his head’s at, but I would love to have the opportunity to play with him again,” Davison said as he broke down crying. “I hope this isn’t the way we went out.”

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