What the hell just happened?
After ESPN conveniently flashed the statistic that the Badgers were 34-1 over the past two seasons when leading in the last four minutes of the game, UW started systematically choking away the lead with every uncharacteristic trait Bo Ryan's teams have excelled at avoiding.
Rob Wilson attempted an ill-advised layup with 30 seconds remaining on the shot clock. He was rejected, of course. Jon Leuer turned the ball over after carelessly handling it at half court. Then Wilson struck again, mishandling a pass. An air-ball three-pointer from Tim Jarmusz and the Badgers successfully blew a nine point lead with 2:37 remaining in the game.
This is where I would normally type a sarcastic "sigh," but that just doesn't seem enough does it?
It all started out so pretty. Keaton Nankivil — who played the entire game with efficient assertiveness — nailed a three from the top of the key to start the game. Jordan Taylor abused smaller (at least thinner) freshman guard Keith Appling in the post for an easy two and Jon Leuer flashed his range with a 24-foot swish in the face of Delvon Roe. Wisconsin stretched its lead to eight on the heels of a 14-3 run with four minutes remaining in the first half, before breaking down and failing to score over the remainder of the period.
In the second half it was more of the same formula. Nankivil (17 points on eight shots) and Taylor (21 points on 20 shots) carried the offense to the nine point lead with 2:37 remaining. After getting shown up by Leuer early, Roe played excellent defense the rest of the way on the Badgers best, holding Leuer to 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting and often preventing the big man from even touching the ball. Roe's quickness and length allowed him to hand with Leuer out on the perimeter, while hustle inside prevented Leuer from establishing post position often.
Rob Wilson, besides his soul crushing turnovers, went 1-for-8 from the floor in 32 minutes of play.
No other Badger attempted more than four field goals.
Two areas in particular hurt UW. One, Wisconsin failed to attack the hoop sufficiently when they are such a strong free throw shooting team. In regulation, the Badgers shot just seven free throws.
Perhaps more painfully, however, by an unofficial count, UW attempted eight shots in the last five seconds of the shot clock before the fateful final 2:37.
They made one of them.
The ability to add the occasional heartbreaking three-pointer after 30 seconds of good defense has been a staple of the Badgers attack just as much as the swing offense under Ryan. That prong of the offense was missing in action Tuesday.
In overtime, Leuer touched the ball just one time and didn't attempt a shot.
Same story as the offense. They were good-to-great for most of the game, but it took a collapse on both ends of the floor to allow the Spartans to overcome a nine point deficit over 150 seconds.
More credit needs to be given to Nankivil. Not only was on fire on the offensive end, he provided the (momentarily) game-saving block on Kalin Lucas' layup attempt at the end of regulation. Nanks chipped in two other blocks and three steals to add to his defensive presence.
Michigan State shot 39.6 percent for the game and couldn't dominate in the paint or get out on the fast break with any kind of consistency. Their usual work on the offensive boards (13), helped out though.
In the last two minutes, a simple ball screen for Lucas at the top of the key caused all the problems. Lucas' penetration caused too much rotation for the defense, with Green and Korie Lucious as the beneficiaries with open shots.
In overtime, MSU's relentless attacking of the hoop paid off with eight attempted free throws.
In all the anger that will stem from the fans following the loss, it should help to remember that winning on the road against a good college opponent is the hardest thing to do.
Still, the uncharacteristic turnovers and mental miscues are hard to swallow for any player, coach or fan and even more so where excellence is expected at Wisconsin.
In a vacuum, this loss won't mean much if the Badgers recover the right way and pound Illinois Saturday.
But it will be a long four days to wait and see if that will happen.