Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, March 15, 2015
CHICAGO — Back and forth it went. A thrust, a parry. A right cross, a jab. A push, a shove. With each basket, rebound and body jostle in the Big Ten title game, the intensity threatened to rip the roof of the United Center.
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Welcome to March.
This Big Ten championship game between Wisconsin and Michigan State was a 40-minute (and then some) frenzied embodiment of the nerve-rattling hysteria of this oh-so-wonderful month on the sporting calendar.
In the end, Wisconsin?s clenched its fist tighter than Michigan State on this day, taking a full-throttle 80-69 overtime decision to win the program?s first league tourney title since 2008. Even better: The win allowed the Badgers to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, where Wisconsin will take on Coastal Carolina in the West Region.
?He told us that if it?s in our hands, we need to take care of business," said Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig. "We were down eleven and they thought they had it in the bag, but I kept reminding my teammates that we were never going to give up. I?m just at a loss for words.?
This epic Big Ten title game-the first overtime affair in the event?s history and arguably the best ever championship game in league annals–was a heck of tune up for what?s ahead for these teams in the next week, when the Big Dance opens. Wisconsin will carry the Big Ten?s banner into the 2015 NCAA tourney, looking to win the league?s first NCAA title since Michigan State turned the trick in 2000.
This was the classic heavyweight battle that featured myriad storylines. At one point, Michigan State led by 11 in the second half and looked to be in control in its quest to win its third Big Ten tourney title in four years. But Wisconsin, whose biggest lead was five, roared back to take the lead-which is exactly what you?d expect from the team that dominated the Big Ten in taking the regular-season championship.
There were big shots. How about the 3-pointer by Frank Kaminsky that gave Wisconsin a 67-64 lead with 1:45 left?
There were smashing dunks. Did you check out the thunder from Branden Dawson at the 7:46 mark that gave the Spartans a 57-46 edge? Or Sam Dekker's reverse jam in the first half?
[ MORE: Seven Big Ten teams make NCAA tournament ]
There were clutch free throws. How about the cool Koenig calmly draining two freebies with 15 seconds hanging on the clock to tie the game at 69?
There was shirt-ripping defense. Did you see the Badgers man-up on Michigan State on the final possession of regulation, giving two fouls before forcing a Dawson jumper from the baseline? Not impressed? How about the fact the Badgers held Michigan State scoreless in overtime?
Oh, and there also were plenty of sideline histrionics from Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo. Ryan?s clenched jaw would have impressed Mike Ditka, and Izzo looked like he wanted to pull out his hair.
?Even I?m speechless and that?s hard to do," said Ryan, whose team lost to Kentucky in the Final Four last season. "It was the fight in this group, and to do what they did when it seemed like Michigan State couldn?t do anything wrong. I just hope we have something left in us come NCAA Tournament time.?
On it went on this pulsating Sunday.
Kaminsky was named the most outstanding player of the tourney, capping his effort with a 19-point game. But it was Nigel Hayes and Koenig who were the stars on this day.
Hayes tallied a game-high 25 points. And Koenig tallied 18 to go along with nine assists. The 3-point shooting of each (Hayes, 3-of-4; Koenig 4-of-8) set the tone on a day when the Badgers hit 50-percent (13-of-26) from long range. That offset the Spartans? dominance in the paint and on the boards.
But there was a fourth hero. And, it was the unlikely one: Duje Dukan. The senior had been mired a prolonged slump, but he had a coming out party recently with seven- and eight-point efforts down the stretch. Dukan saved his best for last, notching 11 huge points off the bench today. It was the first time Dukan reached double-figures since Jan. 15. And, like Hayes and Koenig, Dukan did damage from 3-point range, hitting 3-of-5.
Now, Wisconsin is off the NCAA tourney, looking to repeat last year's march to the Final Four–and maybe even do more.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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