STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Maybe Traevon Jackson made his buzzer-beating 3-pointer because Penn State forgot he was left-handed. Or maybe it’s because of the free run Jackson had to his spot on the left wing.
What the Wisconsin guard cared about most was that the bucket allowed the 22nd-ranked Badgers to survive an upset scare from Penn State and win its regular-season finale 63-60 Sunday.
“It felt good. When the shot comes off your hand like that … I just kind of knew it was going to go in,” the sophomore said coolly after the game, headphones draped around his neck.
The Badgers (21-10, 12-6) escaped Happy Valley with a hard-fought victory against the Big Ten’s last-place team and stopped a two-game losing streak that dropped them out of contention for the conference title.
Jackson’s shot might have been the break the Badgers were looking for heading into this week’s Big Ten tournament. In the locker room after the game, freshman Sam Dekker (14 points) told teammates the victory could be a “mojo-shifter.”
“After losing two straight, we got down on ourselves,” Dekker said. “That will hopefully be a momentum-shifter for us going into the Big Ten tournament.”
They got another break later Sunday when Michigan lost to Indiana. The Wolverines and Badgers ended up in a fourth-place tie in the Big Ten — but Wisconsin got the fourth seed and the last first-round bye in the league tourney based on its win over Michigan this season.
Jackson finished with 15 points. Jermaine Marshall had a game-high 23 points for Penn State (10-20, 2-16), while D.J. Newbill added 22, including a jumper with 5 seconds left to tie the game at 60.
“We earned the right to win this one. That’s why this one hurts,” a solemn coach Patrick Chambers said. “To lose on that type of (ending) … you feel for them.”
After Newbill’s bucket, Wisconsin nearly threw the ball away on the ensuing inbounds but managed to hold on in the scrape on the floor after the officials called a tie-up.
Jackson took some of the blame for that near-turnover. He said he was too far from teammate Mike Bruesewitz to get a clean look at the inbounds play.
But he did make a clean catch on the next inbounds.
The Nittany Lions pressed, but Jackson said he went unguarded in a dash up the left sideline to his spot on the left wing. Penn State’s Kevin Montminy lunged with an outstretched arm, but it was too late.
Officials held up the shot upon review, and the anxious fans at the Jordan Center let out a collective sigh of disappointment.
“We can’t get a better shot like that on an out-of-bounds play … He knew and there was no hesitation,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
“Also (Jackson) is left-handed. That was the advantage.”
Chambers liked what he saw, too, from his guys.
“Give Jackson credit. Tough shot,” Chambers said. “I thought Kevin did a good job contesting.”
Poor second-half play doomed Wisconsin in its previous two games — defeats to Purdue and Michigan State.
This time, Jackson and the Badgers held on down the stretch, though there were plenty of harrowing moments.
The Badgers turned the ball over on an inbounds under their own basket with less than 25 seconds left, giving the Nittany Lions another chance to tie.
Newbill missed a long jumper, but Nick Colella corralled the rebound and found Newbill again. The sophomore guard did a stutter-step before pulling up for the tying bucket.
Seconds later, Jackson made his 3 that had his Wisconsin teammates pumping their arms in victory.
“We just did 25 to 30 of those same situations (in practice) about a week ago,” Ryan said. “Now the ball still has to go in. It’s a tough shot … but they know the drill.”
The Badgers entered Sunday a game back of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State with a chance to pull into a second-place tie in the Big Ten — if those other three teams lost, too.
The Buckeyes and Spartans each won, but Michigan’s loss led to Wisconsin’s gain in the jockeying for Big Ten tournament seeding.
Penn State will play fifth-seeded Michigan on Thursday. The Nittany Lions might have been locked into the last seed, but they still challenged Wisconsin. They’re 2-2 since starting 0-14 in conference, and the tough play extended into the regular-season finale at an energized Jordan Center.
After starting 5 of 6 from the field, Penn State tightened up defensively to hold the Badgers to 5 of 21 the rest of the first half. The Nittany Lions’ one-two guard punch of Marshall and Newbill each scored 10 for a 25-24 halftime lead, and the game settled into a see-saw affair the rest of the way.
“I don’t think we started the game with a sense of urgency,” Chambers said. “But we definitely picked it up after the first media timeout.”
Foul trouble hurt Penn State in the closing minutes though. The Nittany Lions had trouble scoring with Marshall on the bench with four fouls until re-entered with about three minutes left and scored Penn State’s next four points to stay within one possession of the lead.
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