"We got a little ahead of ourselves," said junior Josh Gasser.
Good thing the final seconds didn't do anything to take away Traevon Jackson's latest chapter in late-game heroics.
Jackson gave Wisconsin and its fan base reason to celebrate after hitting a tough two-point jumper with 2.1 seconds left, giving the Badgers a 60-58 win over No.9 Michigan State in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 17,249 at the Kohl Center Sunday.
"I think my teammates put me in a good position," said Jackson. "They were fighting the whole game."
It had been over three years since Wisconsin (19-5, 6-5 Big Ten) beat Michigan State, as the Spartans' five game series winning streak was based off State's stingy defense. In Wisconsin's losing streak to the Spartans, the Badgers had shot less than 35 percent from the field in each game and shot 25 percent from 3-point range.
This time it was UW who dictated the defense, limiting the Spartans (20-4, 9-2) to 40 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from 3-point range. UW finished 45.2 percent from the floor, 39.1 percent from 3-point range and put four players in double figures.
"(Defense) is what we've both hung our hats on," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "It was hard getting an easy look."
Not for Jackson in the final 8.7 seconds, who dribbled the length of the court, hesitated slightly around the perimeter, started to drive to the basket off a screen from Frank Kaminsky and pulled up to hit the winner.
"His decision making has been a little sporadic at times but in a last second situation, if it starts in his hands, I feel very confident we're going to get something," said Ryan. "Doesn't mean he has to take the shot, but he was wide open on that pull up."
Added Gasser: "I want the ball in his hands. We have a lot of guys who want to take it. I think Trae really, really wants to take it. He's confident he's going to make it and I'm confident he's going to make it."
The situation was eerily similar to what the Badgers and Jackson faced a little over a week ago. Down one with 8.4 against Ohio State, Jackson was pressured at the top of the key by stalwart defender Aaron Craft, forcing a late pass to Sam Dekker and an off-balanced 3-point shot that went off the back iron.
Just like Ohio State was expecting Jackson to take the final shot, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was in the same boat, putting his best defender – Gary Harris – on Jackson, but didn't get the same result.
"I've watched two years worth of Jackson making game winning shots," said Izzo. "I put my best defender on him and give the guy credit. He made another one. He has the courage to take them."
After Travis Trice half-court heave bounced off the iron, Wisconsin found itself in a tie with Ohio State for fourth place in the Big Ten, three games back of the Spartans and Michigan with seven games to go. UW travels to Ann Arbor next Sunday.
"This is a great win for us," said freshman Nigel Hayes. "This is big for us in the conference."
Jackson wasn't alone in delivering timely contributions. Hayes delivered a team-high 14 points, one of four players in double figures, but Wisconsin got critical 3-pointers from struggling shooters Ben Brust and Kaminsky in the final minutes.
Brust – missing his first seven 3-pointers – made his only perimeter shot with 3:37 left to give Wisconsin a 55-48 lead, while Kaminsky, 2-for-12 from three over his seven games, hit his 3-pointer with 29 seconds left, giving UW a 58-53 advantage.
"Those were some big shots," said Sam Dekker (11 points). "Those guys are never afraid to step up and take the big shot. That's what makes our unit a little unique. We're not afraid to take big shots, no matter who it is."
Michigan State was playing without standout guards Keith Appling (wrist) and Branden Dawson (hand), but got 24 points from senior center Adreian Payne, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key that tied the score at 58 before Jackson's winner.
Trice added 13 points for the Spartans, but sophomore Gary Harris – the conference's scoring leader at 18.2 points per game – was limited to six points on 3-for-20 shooting, missing his first 10 shots with Gasser hounding him from start to finish.
Harris missed five of his shots in the final 6:51 of the first half, as the Spartans missed 13 shots on their final 12 possessions and couldn't defend Wisconsin on an 11-0 run to end the first half.
"I think the game was more or less lost in that end of the first half," said Izzo. "We just had so many guys on the bench with foul troubles and some guys in there that couldn't guard (a) table. That's disappointing.
"We didn't play well enough. We didn't execute well enough to win a big game on the road against a very good team."
Izzo added that the depth of the Big Ten is going to make every team go through a tough stretch. Now having won two games in a row for the first times since Jan.5-8 and ending a three game home losing streak, UW might be emerging from the shadows.