RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago this week for the Big Ten Tournament Championship.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Hold On, Selection Show. The Spartans and Badgers needed extra time to decide the Big Ten championship game, temporarily preventing the NCAA Tournament committee from finalizing the bracket. Michigan State had briefly seized a double-figure lead with under eight minutes to play, but the separation didn’t last. Wisconsin quickly erased the Spartans’ edge with a 16-5 run, setting in motion a dramatic final three minutes of action. The first 25 minutes of the game had played out much like those final three and overtime did: back-and-forth fashion, as the teams took turns claiming and reclaiming the lead, much to the delight of a United Center divided in their patronage. After Wisconsin dominated overtime, the bracket could finally be completed, and one of the great college basketball games of this season had found its close.
- An Aggressive Branden Dawson. Tom Izzo spoke earlier in the week about encouraging Dawson to pick up his offensive aggressiveness. No such request needed to be made after tipoff this afternoon. True to reputation, Dawson terrorized the rim with vicious dunks on multiple occasions, also displaying a nice in-between game at times. He scored points out of both post-ups and dribble drives, finishing the afternoon with 16 points. Dawson also grabbed seven rebounds in one of his strongest performances of the season. His breakaway dunk with 7:44 to play gave Michigan State what would be its largest lead of the day, igniting the Spartans’ faithful in attendance.
- Unexpected Contributor. It’s been a challenging season for Duje Dukan, but the senior gave the Badgers a huge boost off the bench in the first half. He knocked down two threes as part of an eight-point effort in the first frame, ultimately finishing with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting. It capped off a very nice week in Chicago for Dukan. Contributions like today’s from the senior would be much appreciated in the NCAA Tournament, as Wisconsin’s thin bench remains a concern heading into the season’s final phase.
Star of the Game. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin. The heroes were many for the Badgers. Frank Kaminsky was outstanding (19 points, five rebounds) and Nigel Hayes’ relentless aggression was a key part of the Badgers’ comeback, but Koenig may have made the two biggest plays of the game. The sophomore was fouled and made two free throws to tie the game with 15 seconds to play in regulation, then came up with the biggest bucket of the extra period, hitting a three to put Wisconsin up six with two minutes to play. That final bucket would prove back-breaking for the Spartans and it was delivered by a player who has grown increasingly comfortable in taking the big shot. Koenig finished with 18 points and nine assists.
- “I thought we played one of the greatest games we’ve played for 32, 32 and a half minutes…And then we made a couple mistakes, and they made a couple of great shots.” –Tom Izzo
- “He made us look around, look around the gym, and he wanted us to look at that and remember that feeling. Take that all in. That was we don’t want to feel that feeling again.” –Travis Trice, on why Izzo took a time-out with 3.7 seconds left in OT and the Spartans down 11
- “To go out the way we did and fight back and really take the Big Ten title was awesome. Our fans were great, an awesome environment to play in and it was just a blast.” –Kaminsky, who was named Big Ten Tournament MOP
- “That was a high level NCAA Tournament game right there, if you ask me, as far as the crowd, the intensity, the swings, the up-and-down. For us to get that one and get the No. 1 seed, these guys are extremely proud to represent the University in that way.” –Bo Ryan