Davis finished with 27 as Michigan State overwhelmed Wisconsin 74-65.
"Give Paul credit because he played with those fouls, and I thought took the ball to the basket, got to the free-throw line and did a heck of a job in the minutes he played," Izzo said.
Alando Tucker paced the Badgers with 23 points, including 19 in the second half, but it was not nearly enough.
"I was trying as much I could to keep us in the game," Tucker said.
The loss dropped Wisconsin to 9-6 in the Big Ten and 19-9 overall with one game left in the regular season: at Iowa (10-5, 21-8) Saturday afternoon. The Badgers slipped to fourth place in the league and were eliminated from contention for the conference title. Wisconsin can still end up with anywhere from the No. 2 to the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, depending on how the final weekend of the regular season plays out.
Thursday, both teams had to deal with early foul trouble to key players, but what appeared to be a boon for the Badgers quickly turned on its face.
Davis picked up two quick fouls with 16:35 and 16:12 left in the first half, but he returned to the game with 12:46 showing on the clock and managed to play nine minutes and two seconds without picking up his third foul. During that stretch, Davis scored 10 of his 12 first-half points, leading MSU (8-7, 20-9) back after the Badgers had built a 23-13 lead.
"He's a senior, he's been through the battles before," UW sophomore forward Brian Butch said. "His coaches trust him… he knows exactly what he's got to do not to pick up that third."
Wisconsin fought back from a 12-point deficit early in the second half to draw within four with 6:14 remaining, but could not quite get over the hump.
Tucker led UW's rally, but he missed three consecutive free throws after UW drew within 59-55.
After Tucker missed a free throw that would have capped a 3-point play, Butch missed a 3-pointer. Tucker then missed two straight charity shots.
"We were down four and it just rimmed out," Butch said of his 3-point attempt. "It was just a little bit long. That's the game of basketball. You don't want to put yourself in that position to have to rely on those shots."
"We are going to miss some shots but we still have to be able to be able to get it back on defense," Tucker said. "If we miss those shots, we are still in the game. It is still a (four-) point game. So we have to go back and get it back on the defensive end. That's one of the things that we didn't do tonight."
Ager, who had his own foul issues in the second half, took over the game. He converted a 3-point play, hit a pair of free throws, and knocked down a triple to give MSU a commanding 67-57 lead with 3:46 to play.
The senior's dominance came at the perfect time for the Spartans, who were struggling to make it to the finish line as Brown played with a leg that was cramping badly.
MSU needed all 37 minutes Brown was able to contribute. He was strong defensively, spending time against both Tucker and UW point guard Kammron Taylor, who was held to nine points on 4 of 18 shooting.
"He was really hurt and he's played a lot of minutes," Izzo said. "I thought he did a great job on Taylor, and that was maybe the difference in the game."
Tucker was whistled for his second foul with 10:52 left in the first half and the Badgers holding a 20-13 lead. He re-entered for 1:12 while freshman forward Joe Krabbenhoft was being tended to by the UW training staff, but otherwise Tucker sat out the rest of the first half. Tucker finished the first half with four points in eight minutes.
Tucker was not alone among Badger starters. Butch (two fouls) and junior center Jason Chappell (three) were also in first-half trouble.
That UW foul trouble more than negated Davis' foul woes.
"It was one of those things where we also got in foul trouble," Butch said. "So it was pretty even when it came to that stuff."
The Badgers struggled to find a groove offensively after Tucker picked up his second foul. In the second half, Tucker scored 19 points, while the rest of the team contributed 15.
"It was crucial when I went out in the first half," Tucker said. "… They took momentum when I got my second foul early in the first half. When I got back in I was trying to attack and keep us in the game."
The game was going Wisconsin's way when a 14-4 run made it 23-13.
Chappell, who the Spartans were sagging off of defensively in order to help double and triple team Tucker, knocked down a 3-pointer from near the right corner to give the Badgers a 20-13 advantage. Just more than a minute later, senior guard Ray Nixon hit a triple from about the same spot to give UW its 10-point lead.
The Spartans, though, came storming back, scoring 20 of the game's next 26 points to take a 33-29 lead.
First, MSU responded with a 9-0 run to draw within one point. Playing with two fouls, Davis started the rally with a pair of free throws and a post layup. Ager made a 3 and freshman center Goran Suton scored inside.
Butch, though, putback an offensive rebound. UW sophomore guard Michael Flowers then stripped Ager of the ball as he cut to the basket and scored on a transition 2-on-1, giving UW a 27-22 cushion.
After the teams traded baskets, MSU rattled off a 9-0 run to take its first lead since it was 2-0 early in the game.
Davis made a pair of free throws to make it 29-28 UW. Brown then drilled a triple to give MSU the advantage and junior forward Delco Rowley scored off an offensive rebound.
Freshman forward Kevin Gullikson and Taylor each made 1 of 2 free throws on bonus opportunities in the final 1:30 before the halftime. Otherwise, Wisconsin had just two points in the last six-and-a-half minutes of the first half—Taylor's driving bank shot with 4:54 on the clock.
Brown made a pair of free throws to give MSU a 35-31 lead going into halftime.
The Spartans, and Davis, picked up right where they left off early in the second half. Davis scored in the post and converted a transition layup to give MSU a 39-31 lead and coerce a Wisconsin timeout.
The Breslin Center erupted euphorically a few minutes later, when Brown slammed home an alley-oop pass from point guard Drew Neitzel to give MSU a 45-35 lead. Brown banked in a 3 with 16:00 left to give the Spartans their largest lead, 48-36.
Wisconsin then went on an 11-3 run to close the deficit to 51-47, but the Badgers turned it over on their next two possessions.
Big Ten Tournament possibilities
The Big Ten's tiebreaking procedure for conference tournament seeding works like this: multi-team ties are broken by first looking at all the tied teams records against each other in composite, then looking at their records versus the No. 1 team in the league and on down the line until the tie is broken.
Wisconsin could still end up No. 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. Here is how:
No. 2 seed: If Wisconsin beats Iowa Saturday and Illinois loses at Michigan State, then the Badgers, Hawkeyes and Illini would be drawn into a three-way tie for second place at 10-6. In that scenario the teams' respective three-way records would be: Wisconsin 2-1, Illinois 2-1, Iowa 1-3. Even though Illinois beat Wisconsin, by rule they remain tied and their respective records against first-place Ohio State are the determining factor. UW was 1-1 against OSU; Illinois was 0-1. The Badgers get the two seed.
No. 3 seed: If Wisconsin beats Iowa Saturday and Illinois beats Michigan State, then the Illini get the two seed outright and the Badgers win the tiebreaker with Iowa for the third spot.
No. 4 seed: If Wisconsin loses to Iowa and Indiana beats Michigan, the Badgers are the four seed by virtue of their win over the Hoosiers in the teams' only meeting. The way the tiebreakers play out, this is the case whether or not Michigan State joins the tie for fourth place with a win over Illinois.
No. 5 seed: If Wisconsin loses, Michigan beats Indiana and Michigan State loses to Illinois, then the Badgers and Wolverines would finish tied for fourth place at 9-7. Michigan wins the tiebreaker with its head-to-head win over UW.
No. 6 seed: If Wisconsin loses, Michigan beats Indiana and Michigan State beats Illinois, then the Badgers, Wolverines and Spartans all finish tied at 9-7. Their composite records against one another in this scenario: Wisconsin 1-2, Michigan 2-1, Michigan State 2-2. The Wolverines would be the four seed, the Spartans the five seed and the Badgers would fall to the six seed and be forced to play Thursday in Indianapolis against No. 11 Purdue. The Boilermakers, incidentally, are the only team in the Big Ten that cannot possibly change its seed this weekend.