Badgers' Traevon Jackson silences critics with game-winning shot
FEB 09, 2014 5:30p ET
MADISON, Wis. -- The maddening unpredictability of Traevon Jackson is back-to-back turnovers during the waning minutes of a close game against a nationally ranked team. It is groans emanating from Wisconsin's fan base and a growing minority calling for the team's point guard to be benched.
But the maddening unpredictability of Traevon Jackson is also a beautifully executed game-winning pull-up jumper from inside the left wing with 2.1 seconds remaining, resulting in a delirious Kohl Center crowd and an exhilarating 60-58 victory against No. 9 Michigan State.
Those plays on Sunday afternoon encapsulated all there is to like (and occasionally dislike) about Wisconsin's oft-maligned floor general. With the game on the line, however, nobody has proven more effective than the junior from Westerville, Ohio, who buried the third game-winner of his college career. The shot also allowed the Badgers to celebrate a victory they desperately needed after dropping five of seven conference games to fall from No. 3 nationally to outside the top-25 Associated Press poll in one month.
"Obviously we've got a bunch of guys who want to take it," Badgers guard Josh Gasser said of the last shot. "But 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. I didn't even have to crash the boards. I saw it go up and I was like, 'It's going in.'"
Last season, it was Jackson who took over as the starting point guard when Gasser sustained a season-ending ACL injury in October 2012. Jackson showed his toughness and unflinching desire to succeed in the clutch by hitting game winners against Minnesota and Penn State. He also drilled a game-tying 3-pointer against Iowa in the final 30 seconds before Wisconsin went on to win in overtime.
Yet none of those shots seemed to carry much good will with Badgers fans this season as Jackson struggled with his consistency, particularly poor shooting stretches and questionable decision-making. Before the Michigan State game, Jackson had nearly as many turnovers (27) as he did assists (30) during Big Ten play. He also had made only 30.7 percent of his field goal attempts over the past six games.
The notion of having a short-term memory, then, had become especially important for Jackson while some clamored for freshman Bronson Koenig to take his spot in the starting lineup or play in key moments down the stretch.
"That's just something you've got to develop as a player if you want to be good in this league," said Jackson, who finished with seven points, eight assists, five turnovers and five rebounds in 34 minutes. "Forget about the last play and move on to the next. Even if you make it, you've got to go on to the next."
Late in Sunday's game, Jackson threw an ill-advised pass out of bounds to a spot he thought teammate Nigel Hayes would be cutting to off a screen with 2:23 left in the second half. At the time, Wisconsin clung to a 55-49 lead that would quickly be cut in half on Travis Trice's 3-pointer. Less than a minute later, Jackson lost control of the ball and fouled Trice after he swiped it from his hands.
Despite those mistakes, there was no doubt Jackson would have the ball for the final sequence, after Michigan State forward Adreian Payne buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 58-58 with 8.7 seconds remaining.
"He's the guy that's earned that spot and he proved it last year with some big plays," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "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."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said he knew "hands down" that Jackson would try and take the last shot, so he put Gary Harris, his best defender, on the ball instead of Trice. Just one week earlier, Jackson was in charge at the end of the Ohio State game and couldn't get a shot off against Aaron Craft. He passed to Sam Dekker, who missed a contested double-pump 3-pointer at the buzzer in Ohio State's 59-58 victory.
On Sunday, Jackson dribbled up the court and came off a high ball screen around the left side, so the left-hander could push to the basket with his dominant hand. He rose up and swished the jumper on Harris to put the Badgers ahead. Trice had time for an unguarded half-court heave before the buzzer, but it fell off the front rim, allowing Wisconsin (19-5, 6-5 Big Ten) to climb into a tie for fourth place in the conference with the Buckeyes.
"That's sort of what they expected out of me is just to finish the game," Jackson said. "I was just thinking, 'We need to get a shot up this time.' I didn't want to take it to the hole. I didn't want to get blocked. So the pull-up was there."
Michigan State (20-4, 9-2), which was minus point guard Keith Appling (wrist injury) and forward Branden Dawson (broken hand), remained tied for the Big Ten lead with Michigan.
Afterward, Izzo said he was disappointed with the result but proud of the Spartans' effort. All he could do was offer praise to the player whose jumper sunk his team.
"The guy made a heck of a shot," Izzo said. "He drove, stopped, popped. Give him credit. I don't blame Gary for that. I say that was a heck of a shot. Couldn't double him because they've got so many shooters. He just made a heck of a play."
In the process, perhaps Jackson also quieted his detractors, if only temporarily.
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