College Basketball Nation: 2012 Big Ten tournament

INDIANAPOLIS -- This is exactly how it should end.

The best teams in the Big Ten battling to end an argument about league supremacy.

Sunday’s Big Ten tournament championship game between Michigan State and Ohio State could impact the NCAA tournament field in dramatic ways. The winner might earn a No. 1 seed.

But that wasn’t the only talk after the semifinals Saturday.

Jared Sullinger said that the winner will have a claim to the “outright” Big Ten title, which was split three ways between Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State during the regular season.

Both squads proved that they’re the crème de la crème in the conference with dominant runs to the title game. The Buckeyes toyed with Purdue and Michigan. The Spartans whipped Iowa and crushed Wisconsin for the third time this season.

Both squads looked like Final Four-caliber teams in Indianapolis.

Finally, the Buckeyes clicked and used their full horsepower to dominate. This team had a shaky February that included a 2-3 stretch. But they’ve been rolling since the final week of the regular season. Sullinger is in Beast Mode. Deshaun Thomas is surging. Aaron Craft is playing great defense.

They’re peaking at the right time.

The Spartans’ performance against Wisconsin illustrated their potential. With Draymond Green struggling, other players stepped up and pulled the Spartans out of a 20-9 hole on their way to the victory. The Spartans have displayed the same toughness that sent the program to consecutive Final Fours in 2009 and 2010.

The conference tournament title game features the two best players in the league. Green versus Sullinger alone is a must-see matchup. Green won Big Ten Player of the Year. But Sullinger’s numbers were comparable.

This is the moment where great players are expected to show up. Both know it. Let’s see how they respond.

But there’s more. It’s Tom Izzo, who hasn’t been to the conference tournament title game since 2000, against Thad Matta, who will have a shot at his third consecutive Big Ten tourney title.

They each own a victory on the other’s home floor. But Ohio State’s victory at Michigan State during the final game of the regular season created the three-way tie for first and a string of questions about the Big Ten’s hierarchy.

And now we can finally figure it all out.

The Big 12, the ACC and Big East tournaments provided plenty of drama. But we missed premier matchups in the title bout due to early losses by Syracuse, Kansas and Duke.

That’s not the situation in the Big Ten.

We’re about to find out who’s king with Michigan State and Ohio State battling Sunday.

Both of these squads know that Sunday’s meeting will validate their Big Ten title status.

Sure, there was a tie a few weeks ago.

That, however, will be broken at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jared Sullinger admits that Ohio State didn’t always acknowledge its vulnerabilities during a tough stretch in February that featured three losses in five games, a rare lull under Thad Matta.

The practices weren’t as crisp as expected, either. Players didn’t complete key tasks. And the overall effort was subpar at times.

“We took a lot of games for granted. And we didn’t play hard,” Sullinger said following his team’s 77-55 win over Michigan in the Big Ten tournament semifinals Saturday.

But these Buckeyes walloped the Wolverines and did not resemble the team that drew criticism last month.

The Buckeyes played like the dominant crew that earned a slot in many prognosticators' preseason Final Four brackets. They competed like the team that destroyed Duke in November and won six consecutive Big Ten games from Jan. 15 through Feb. 7 (three against nationally ranked opponents).

They started their win over Michigan with a 16-3 run. Then, they got serious and seized a shot at their third consecutive Big Ten tourney title in a Sunday matchup against Michigan State with one of their most impressive outings of the year. They took a 20-point lead five minutes into the second half.

A Wolverines team that beat the Buckeyes by five in Ann Arbor on Feb. 18 didn’t have a chance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Michigan shot 4-for-25 from the 3-point line.

Trey Burke, who scored 30 points in a quarterfinal victory over Minnesota, only produced five points (1-for-11) against the Buckeyes.

The latter’s four-game winning streak has showcased their talent and their evolution from the squad that endured that tough sequence in February.

Sullinger said those losses taught the Buckeyes a lesson and made them take a more focused approach to each game.

“When we had that ‘bad’ month of February, we just took off. We took off from there,” said Sullinger, who scored 24 points against the Wolverines. “It’s just win and advance. Win and advance and keep going.”

The Buckeyes are better because Deshaun Thomas is better. The sophomore has scored 19 or more in five of his team’s past six games. He had 22 against Michigan.

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJared Sullinger continued his recent solid play on Saturday with a 24-point effort against Michigan.
Sullinger scored 17 points combined in two games in late February. He’s been on a mean streak since then. He’s recorded three double-doubles in the past four games and put that late-February anomaly behind him.

The Buckeyes are also playing tough defense and getting quality minutes from reserves (Evan Ravenel scored six points in 16 minutes against the Wolverines).

“We play our best basketball when we don't rely on one person to try to score a lot of points. And we're playing great on the defensive end, and everyone's talking, everyone's into the game,” guard Aaron Craft said. “I think we're starting to understand that's where we're at our best and that's what we need to do for however many games we have left to play, just continuing to go out there, have fun, be positive with each other, and enjoy it.”

Ohio State has thrust itself back into the national championship conversation again. There were stretches in February when the Buckeyes’ postseason potential was questioned. But their display in Indianapolis has offered reminders about how good the Buckeyes can be if they play together.

Matta can only explain part of Ohio State’s late push.

Specific tweaks like switching up Thomas’ pregame routine so that he’s ready to go before tipoff and not using the early part of the game to get warmed up have helped. He also said that Michigan State losing to Indiana in the final full week of the regular season and opening the door for Ohio State to win a share of the Big Ten title may have reinvigorated the Buckeyes.

Regardless of what’s clicked for Ohio State, it’s a promising turn for one of the best teams in the country.

“We have a very good togetherness right now, a very good understanding of how we want to play, what we want do, how we want do it, and I think those are the things that we've been striving for all season,” Matta said. “And it's good to see, over the course of the last couple weeks, just the energy and the enthusiasm this team has had. And I think it carries over to the court for us as well.”

Sunday’s game is a matchup between the Big Ten’s best. Perhaps the winner will earn a No. 1 seed. But even if the matchup doesn’t shift the NCAA tournament bracket, it’s still an opportunity for the Buckeyes to build more mojo and continue to prove that they’re an elite team with the goods to reach New Orleans.

They also want to end the discussion about the Big Ten’s hierarchy after Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan shared the regular-season crown.

“It’s all about who wants to win the Big Ten outright,” he said.

One of the differences between the Buckeyes team that struggled in February and the one that traveled to Indianapolis is that Ohio State has pounced on its two conference tournament opponents when given the opportunity. The Buckeyes beat Purdue by 17 points in the quarterfinals Friday.

That victory and Saturday’s win over Michigan displayed the kind of cutthroat basketball that could lead to a win Sunday and March Madness success for the Buckeyes.

They’ve found their killer instinct at the right time.

“We know [Sunday’s matchup against the Spartans] is going to be a battle," Thomas said, "and we just want to come in and try to hit them first, like we've been doing for these last two games."
INDIANAPOLIS -- At the start of the first half, Draymond Green didn’t play like the Big Ten Player of the Year. He didn’t even look like the best player on his team in stretches of Michigan State’s 65-52 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament semifinals Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Austin Thornton, a fifth-year senior, noticed Green’s demeanor switch from confident to concerned.

[+] EnlargeAustin Thornton
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAustin Thornton was the sparkplug the Spartans needed to overcome an early 20-9 deficit.
So when Green, who scored just two points before halftime, couldn’t overcome those early struggles, Thornton told him to keep his head up and focus on rebounding. And then Thornton did something about the Spartans’ early 20-9 deficit.

It was Thornton (5.0 ppg) who connected on three consecutive 3s and jolted the Spartans toward their first Big Ten tournament title game since 2000. Michigan State closed out the first half with a 26-5 run that was sparked by Thornton’s 3s. Wisconsin rallied in the second half to cut Michigan State’s lead to six, but the Spartans responded with an 11-0 run to stay safe and comfortable.

It all started with Thornton.

“We were pretty lethargic there at the beginning and so we needed a spark,” Thornton said after the game. “And I was able to do it and was glad the guys got me the ball where it needed to go and I’m just glad the shots went in. … The rim was getting bigger.”

On Sunday, Michigan State will fight for the conference tournament championship and possibly a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. With durability and relentlessness, the Spartans were unstoppable for the second time this weekend.

But they had to do it without Green early. They seemed lost. They blew defensive assignments. They missed layups. They threw passes toward cheerleaders.

It was a foreign experience for a team that’s enjoyed the fruits from a player who averages 16.3 ppg and 10.3 rpg.

Most teams encounter trouble when their most important player is off. But the Spartans proved that they possess the depth to rebound in those situations, especially with a leader such as Thornton. That helped the Spartans move to Plan B.

“I’m happy somebody’s finally noticing what Austin does,” Green said. “He's so underrated, it’s pathetic.”

As he watched Green’s body language change, Thornton reminded the conference player of the year that his scoring woes didn’t mean that he couldn’t have an impact on the game.

“There have been times that he’s struggling -- he’s human like we all are -- he needs someone to step up and really tell him, ‘You’re OK. Don’t forget who you are. You’re the MVP of this league. You’ve done some great things. Don’t worry about the shots not going in and just know that you can pick it up.’ And he was able to do that.”

Added Green: “He keeps me positive.”

Green crashed the boards and finished the night with 16 rebounds to go along with 14 points.

Green may or may not encounter a similar hurdle during the NCAA tournament or in the title game Sunday. And the Spartans will have to regroup again. Though Green has been the focus this season, he’s definitely not the only talent on the roster.

When he couldn’t find the basket, Brandon Wood (nine points, 4-for-8) hit shots. Keith Appling (five assists) worked the offense. And Thornton sank 3s (4-for-4 from beyond the arc), buying Green enough time to shake a rare, futile first half.

The Spartans shot 21-for-42 from the field. They outscored the Badgers 22-6 in the paint. Beginning near the 10-minute mark of the first half, the Badgers failed to record a field goal for 12 minutes.

Rob Wilson, who scored a career-high 30 points in a Friday win over Indiana, finished with six against the Spartans Saturday. They led by 10 at halftime even though Green hit just one of five shots.

“We just have a deep team. We have people who can step up and hit shots when somebody like Draymond is struggling,” Wood said. “We don’t get rattled because we know other people can step up and play just as well.”

After Saturday’s win, the Spartans said they wanted to take some of the pressure off the veteran. They recognized that Saturday’s first-half featured a problem that Green, for once, couldn’t solve.

And in that moment, they showcased their versatility.

The Spartans depend on Green. But Saturday’s performance suggested that they’re bigger than the All-America candidate.

“We all can tell when Draymond is struggling. We just try to come together as a team and help him out because he probably feels like he’s got to carry us,” said Adreian Payne. “And when your leader feels like that, down in the dumps, other players, we've got to come together as a team to help him through it. Sooner or later, he’ll get himself going and he can feed off our energy.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Reaction from Ohio State's dominating 77-55 victory over Michigan in a Big Ten tournament semifinal.

Overview: Pure dominance for Ohio State. That’s all. The Buckeyes jumped out to a 16-3 lead. They shot 51 percent from the field on their way to a halftime lead of 34-21. They held Michigan to a 1-for-13 clip from beyond the arc in the first half, too.

The carnage continued in the second half. Five minutes after halftime, the Buckeyes possessed a 20-point lead. The Wolverines could not neutralize Ohio State’s talent as they were dismissed from the tourney with a lopsided loss. And now we’ll see a matchup between the two best teams in the league, Michigan State and Ohio State, in the Big Ten tournament championship. The Buckeyes will have a chance to win their third consecutive title. Michigan State hasn’t reached the title game since 2000.

Turning point: The moment that Ohio State put on its uniforms. This looks like the Ohio State squad that so many assumed it could be at the start of the year. The Buckeyes have had some struggles in recent months. But right now, they’re playing like one of the best teams in the country.

Key player: Jared Sullinger’s mean streak continues. He scored 24 points, grabbed six rebounds and recorded two blocks. Deshaun Thomas added 22 points and six rebounds.

Key stat: Michigan went 4-for-25 (15 percent) from the 3-point line. The Wolverines didn’t have a chance against the Buckeyes without the 3-ball.

Miscellaneous: Trey Burke scored 30 against Minnesota Friday. He had 5 points against the Buckeyes Saturday.

What’s next: Ohio State will play Michigan State Sunday for the Big Ten tournament championship, a game that could have major NCAA tournament seeding implications. Michigan will get ready for the NCAA tournament.

Video: Michigan State's Austin Thornton

March, 10, 2012
3/10/12
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ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf talks with Michigan State's Austin Thornton after the Spartans beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten semifinals.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Spartans were looking for Draymond Green, this season’s Big Ten Player of the Year, to make something happen. But the senior struggled in the first half (two points) as the Badgers jumped out to a 20-9 lead. But the Spartans got a push from Austin Thornton, who hit three consecutive threes to start a 26-5 run in the final 9 minutes, 35 seconds of the first half. The Spartans rolled from there.

The Badgers pulled within six near the midway point of the second half, but the Spartans regained the momentum and sealed the 65-52 victory.

It was Michigan State’s third win over Wisconsin this season.

Turning point: The first turning point was Michigan State’s massive surge in the first half. Wisconsin didn’t record a field goal during a stretch that started at the 10:21 mark of the first half and ended with a Ryan Evans jump shot at 18:13 of the second half. But the Badgers didn’t go away quietly.

They launched an 11-0 run in the second half that cut Michigan State’s 17-point lead to six. But the Spartans pulled the momentum back with their own 11-0 rally.

Key player: Surprisingly, it wasn’t Draymond. Thornton was 4-for-4 from the field, all 3s. He scored 12 points. But his back-to-back-to-back treys in the first half saved the game for a Michigan State squad that couldn’t rely on Green early.

Key stat: Michigan State outscored the Badgers 14-2 in the paint before halftime. The Spartans went 21-for-42 from the field in the game.

Miscellaneous: Rob Wilson, who scored a career-high 30 points in a quarterfinal victory over Indiana on Friday, recorded six points Saturday. … Jordan Taylor scored 19 points in his final conference tournament game. … The Spartans are still alive for the No. 1 seed.

What’s next: The Spartans will play the winner of Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan semifinal for the Big Ten tournament title Sunday. Wisconsin will find out where it’s going for the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- And then there were four.

The top four seeds in the Big Ten tournament will fight for a shot at the championship and the league’s automatic bid during Saturday’s semifinals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Here’s a quick preview of the games:

Michigan State vs. Wisconsin (1:40 p.m. ET, CBS) -- The Spartans were impressive in their lopsided victory over Iowa in the quarterfinals Friday. It was a big game for a Michigan State team that was playing its first complete contest without Branden Dawson, who tore his ACL in the final regular-season game of the year. If the Spartans had to prove to the selection committee that they are not a dramatically different team without Dawson, they accomplished that feat. In the first half of their 92-75 win over the Hawkeyes, they shot 70 percent from the field and scored 55 points. Wisconsin is one of the best defensive teams in the country. So Saturday’s matchup will be a great test for Michigan State’s offense.

The Spartans are facing a Wisconsin squad that managed to impress Friday, too. The Badgers played one of the toughest remaining teams in the field. Indiana was fueled by a group of supporters who made the short drive from Bloomington. And the Hoosiers were out to win one for Verdell Jones, the senior point guard who suffered a torn ACL in Thursday’s opening-round victory over Penn State. But Rob Wilson (career-high 30 points, 7 for 10 from 3-point line) couldn’t miss and helped the Badgers pull off the 79-71 win. That’s not a typo. The Badgers scored 79 points. Friday’s game was more proof that this Wisconsin team can play with the nation’s elite if it can just find that offensive push. On Friday, Wilson gave them that boost despite averaging 3.1 ppg. The team went 13-for-26 from beyond the arc.

Ohio State vs. Michigan (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS) -- All season, we’ve been talking about what Ohio State might do. The potential is obviously there. But can this Buckeyes squad put together a run in March that showcases its potential? That’s the question. If the Buckeyes compete the way they did down the stretch of their 88-71 victory over Purdue on Friday night, then they might end up in New Orleans. They hit that switch and outscored the Boilermakers 26-11 over the last 7:01 of the game. Jared Sullinger scored 30 points, one of five Buckeyes who recorded double figures. This Ohio State squad looked like the best in the field in the final minutes of Friday’s game. But Michigan will spread the floor and challenge the Buckeyes with its speed and versatility.

The Wolverines didn’t look great against Minnesota on Friday. They were down by nine points in the final five minutes of the game. But they ultimately stormed back and sent the game into overtime, where they won. Without Trey Burke (30 points), there would have been an upset. The Wolverines were crushed on the boards even though they were playing a Gophers team that didn’t have the services of an injured Ralph Sampson III. They will not find success with a similar effort against the Buckeyes. Give the Wolverines credit for making a late push and securing the win. But they’ll have to do more to beat the Buckeyes on Saturday.

Video: Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas

March, 10, 2012
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After Ohio State's 88-71 victory over Purdue, Myron Medcalf caught up with Deshaun Thomas, who contributed 22 points and 7 rebounds for the Buckeyes.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Reaction from Ohio State's 88-71 win over Purdue in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal game.

Overview: The last time Purdue and Ohio State faced off, the Boilermakers nearly pulled off the upset in Columbus before suffering an 87-84 loss Feb. 7. The two battled again Friday in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.

It was a close game for most of the night until a late surge put the Buckeyes ahead for good.

The Buckeyes outscored the Boilermakers 26-11 in the final 7:01 of the game.

Five Buckeyes reached double figures. The team hit 61 percent of its shots and had a 35-23 advantage in the rebounding war. And now the Buckeyes will move on to play rival Michigan in Saturday’s semifinals.

Turning point: It was a 62-59 affair before William Buford completed a three-point play after drawing a foul on a bucket to put the Buckeyes ahead 65-59 with 7:01 on the clock. The sequence gave the Buckeyes a spark. They dominated the Boilermakers from that point.

Key player: Jared Sullinger had a monster outing with 30 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and three blocks.

Key stat: The Buckeyes outscored the Boilermakers 48-18 in the paint. All five starters scored 10 or more for Ohio State.

Miscellaneous: This Buckeyes team has Final Four talent. Once Ohio State’s offense started to roll in the final minutes of the game, it was clear that this team could end up in New Orleans. … D.J. Byrd led the Boilermakers with 20 points off the bench.

What’s next: The Buckeyes will play the Wolverines in Saturday’s semifinals. Purdue find out its NCAA tournament destination on Sunday.


INDIANAPOLIS -- Michigan did not expect the test it encountered against Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament Friday.

But the Gophers weren’t prepared for Trey Burke, either. The Big Ten freshman of the year scored 30 points in a 73-69 win over Minnesota to advance to a Saturday matchup against the winner of Friday’s game between Ohio State and Purdue. Burke did whatever he wanted when he wanted to do it against the Gophers.

[+] EnlargeMichigan's Trey Burke
AP Photo/Kiichiro SatoMichigan freshman Trey Burke scored a career-best 30 points against Minnesota.
“Well, the coaches just tell me to take whatever the defense gave me. We [saw] that in the first half. They had a little trouble guarding the pick-and-roll action, so the top of the key was kind of open for an 8-foot jump shot,” Burke said after the game. “Towards the second half, they were kind of making me not use the screen, so it allowed us to be able to get down in the lane and shoot lay-ups. And a couple times they had pinched in, and that's when I hit the shooters on the wing. Like we say, we knocked down big shots when it mattered.”

The Gophers, a 10-seed, took a nine-point lead on a Rodney Williams' dunk with 4:33 to go. An upset was brewing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

But Michigan clicked in the final minutes and sent the game into overtime -- Minnesota is the only team that’s ever played in two overtime games in a single Big Ten tournament -- after Evan Smotrycz hit a 3-pointer with 19 seconds to play. The Wolverines proved to be too tough in overtime.

Burke scored six points in the final 32 seconds (a layup and four free throws) to seal the win.

For Michigan, Friday’s game was a challenge that could help it prepare for the NCAA tournament.

“Sometimes you like to see your team go through … a little trouble like that to see how they're going to respond and see how tough we are. I think we passed the test today,” said Zack Novak. “We played a team that was fighting for their lives. They came to play and they played very well. And for us, we didn't do some of the things that we typically do. To be able to come out of this game with a win is huge, and that's what you gotta do at this time of the year.”


INDIANAPOLIS -- Reaction from Michigan's 73-69 overtime win over Minnesota in a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal game.

Overview: The Gophers led by as much as nine during an ugly first half that ended with Minnesota leading 23-20. The Gophers had a 20-10 rebounding advantage in the first half but only shot 33 percent from the field. Trey Burke scored 13 of Michigan's 20 points before halftime.

In the second half, the two teams traded buckets until the Gophers, a 10-seed, surged late and took a nine-point lead with less than four minutes to play. But Michigan would not go away.

Evan Smotrycz hit a late 3 that tied it with seconds on the game clock and ultimately sent the contest into overtime. Minnesota became the first team to play two overtime games in a single Big Ten tournament. They needed overtime to dismiss Northwestern on Thursday, too.

Friday’s game was a two-point affair with a minute to play in the extra period. But Burke’s layup with 33 seconds to go extended Michigan’s lead to four. The Wolverines went 4-for-4 from the charity stripe in the final 22 seconds of the game to seal the victory.

Turning point: Julian Welch hit back-to-back 3s that gave the Gophers a 52-45 advantage with 5:11 to play. Then, Rodney Williams flew down the court for an impressive dunk that drew “oohs” from the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and put the Gophers up by nine (54-45) on Minnesota’s next possession. Game over, right? Wrong. Michigan sent the game into overtime with a late push. Burke’s layup with 33 seconds remaining in overtime was just enough to give the Wolverines the four-point cushion it needed to finish off the Gophers.

Key player: Burke carried the Wolverines Friday. He scored 30 points and went 11-for-14 from the field.

Key stat: Michigan shot 24-for-49 from the field (49 percent).

Miscellaneous: The Wolverines were outrebounded 31-22 against Minnesota … The Gophers committed 16 turnovers … Freshman Andre Hollins scored 21 points one day after recording 25 against Northwestern.

What’s next: Michigan will play the winner of Friday night’s Purdue-Ohio State matchup in the semifinals Saturday. The Gophers will have to wait and see if they’re in the NIT. They did not make it last year. This could be their second consecutive year without a postseason.


INDIANAPOLIS -- He didn’t credit his lucky socks or a favorite pregame meal. He didn’t quote Confucius or Oprah. He didn’t recall reading a horoscope or opening a fortune cookie that predicted his performance.

He didn’t know exactly how it’d happened.

Rob Wilson just felt it and he didn’t know why.

The senior’s 30-point explosion in Wisconsin’s 79-71 win over Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, which included a 7-for-10 clip from the 3-point line, belied reason.

A fourth-year guard who’d never scored more than 13 points. A player who’d accrued 21 points combined in three previous games. A senior who’s averaging 3.1 ppg this season played the role of Mr. Clutch for Wisconsin Friday and recorded a career-high.

“Every game, I feel like, can be a good game for me. Today was just one of those days,” Wilson told ESPN.com.

It wasn’t just what Wilson did. It’s also when he did it.

A layup with 2 minutes, 30 seconds to go extended Wisconsin’s lead to 67-62. A 3-pointer with 38 seconds to play gave the Badgers a 72-65 advantage and a shot at Michigan State in Saturday’s semifinals.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Rob Wilson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesRob Wilson, who averaged 3.1 points per game this season, scored 30 against Indiana.
Whenever the Badgers were desperate for a bucket, Wilson gave them one.

The Hoosiers kept the game close after the Badgers took an 11-point lead in the first half. They’d cut that edge to five points by halftime.

The Hoosiers played with a heavy heart after Verdell Jones was diagnosed with a torn ACL Friday morning, an injury he suffered in the first half of Thursday’s victory over Penn State. Wisconsin had trouble pulling away from a Hoosiers squad that was fueled by what sounded like a home crowd in Indianapolis.

The Badgers had to rely on Wilson.

“It seemed like every time we needed a shot, every time they were making a run back at us and chipping away at our lead, we found Rob open somewhere and he was putting up shots and knocking them down,” said Wisconsin center Jared Berggren, who scored 16 points.

As he walked off the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Wisconsin fans cheered Wilson’s name. One middle-aged man reached down and smacked him on the back. The entire experience seemed foreign to Wilson.

“I don't recall having … I mean the weight of the ball felt like it was going in today. I don't remember that feeling in a long time. I don't know the last time I've been in the interview room,” Wilson said in the postgame press conference.

His teammates enjoyed the moment as much as he did. Jordan Taylor, one of his best friends on the team, said he “felt like I had 30.”

Others said Wilson was in such a zone that that they were surprised when he missed.

“I actually remember the two shots he did miss. The one on the wing, and the fast break. … He also air-balled one,” said Mike Bruesewitz. “He had it going tonight. We found him early, we found him often.”

Wilson had never enjoyed the spotlight that found him in Indianapolis.

In the locker room, Wilson couldn’t get settled because teammates, coaches and other team personnel wanted to personally congratulate him for his achievement. That celebration came after reporters crowded around him in a corner 15 minutes.

But Wilson did not make the game bigger than it was. He scored 30 points because he believed he could score 30 points, he said. He’d worked hard like a multitude of college basketball players. And he’d always prepared for the opportunity even as his minutes dwindled throughout his career.

He did not, however, offer the kind of backstory that can exaggerate similar moments.

Wilson got hot at the right time.

And for the Badgers, their coaches and Wilson’s teammates, no other explanation is necessary.

“You always want to go out with a bang, but it's that time of the year when every team in the country steps it up and every player steps it up because it's tournament time,” he said. “So that's what I did, stepped up as a senior's supposed to.”

INDIANAPOLIS -- A look at Wisconsin's victory against a depleted Indiana team.

Overview: During an opening-round victory against Penn State, Indiana lost senior point guard and leader Verdell Jones to an ACL injury. But the Hoosiers tried to press forward without the veteran in a tough game against the Badgers, who had beaten the Hoosiers in their only previous meeting of the season.

The Badgers led by 11 with 10:30 remaining in the first half of Friday’s game. But after shooting 47 percent in the first half, the Hoosiers were only down 36-31 at halftime.

The Badgers led by as much as nine in the second half, but they couldn’t bury the Hoosiers, who fed off a Bankers Life Insurance crowd that was anchored by Indiana fans. Cody Zeller hit a pair of free throws that cut Wisconsin’s lead to three with 5:04 to play. The Hoosiers stayed close the rest of the game.

But Rob Wilson’s late 3-pointer put Wisconsin ahead 72-65 with about 40 seconds to play. Ryan Evans blocked Jordan Hulls' 3-point attempt on the other end, and the Badgers sealed the game with late free throws.

Turning point: Hulls hit a jump shot with 3:45 to play that cut Wisconsin’s lead to one point (63-62). A pair of Wisconsin free throws followed after Zeller was called for the offensive foul on the play. The teams exchanged buckets before Jared Berggren extended a three-point lead (67-64) to five with 90 seconds left. It was a crucial sequence. The Hoosiers needed a play during that stretch. And they had chances.

Key player: Wilson averages 3.1 ppg. He’d recorded double figures (11 during 67-66 loss at Iowa Feb. 23) once this season. Then, Friday happened. The senior guard scored 30, and went 7-for-10 from beyond the arc.

Key stat: The Badgers were 13-for-26 from the 3-point line.

Miscellaneous: Jones watched the game from behind the bench … Christian Watford recorded his second double-double in this year’s tournament with 17 points and 10 rebounds. … Wisconsin fans chanted “Rob Wilson! Rob Wilson!” as the game clock expired.

What’s next: Michigan State will face Wisconsin on Saturday in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. Indiana will go home and prepare for the NCAA tournament.

Video: Michigan State's Brandon Wood

March, 9, 2012
3/09/12
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ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf talks with Michigan State's Brandon Wood after the Spartans defeated Iowa in the Big Ten tournament.


INDIANAPOLIS -- Thoughts on Michigan State's 92-75 win over Iowa.

Overview: At the start of the game, the Hawkeyes and Spartans were even. The score was tied, 22-22, with 11:14 remaining in the first half. Then the Spartans seemed to realize that they actually have to do something in this year’s Big Ten tournament, which could make a major difference in their NCAA tournament seeding. Michigan State ended the half on a 33-17 run.

Turning point: When the Spartans separated themselves from the Hawkeyes midway through the first half.

Key player: Draymond Green led four Spartans in double figures with 21 points. He also had 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks.

Key stat: Michigan State shot 70 percent from the field in the first half. No typo. The Spartans went 21-for-30.

Miscellaneous: In the first half, Derrick Nix punched a hole into the Big Ten logo on the padding around one of the baskets after a tough bucket. … Michigan State scored 55 points in the first half. The Spartans scored a total of 55 points in their Feb. 28 loss at Indiana. … The Spartans played their first game without Branden Dawson, who tore his ACL in the final game of the regular season.

What’s next: Michigan State will face the winner of Friday’s Indiana-Wisconsin matchup. Iowa (17-16) should get into the NIT. The Hawkeyes took steps this season.

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