By Michael Harley | @mhar3481
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — Less than a week after suffering an apparent right ankle injury in a frightening moment, Johnny Davis, Wisconsin’s sophomore guard and the Big Ten Player of the Year, ran out of the tunnel in Indianapolis ready to compete in the Badgers’ Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament quarterfinal against the Michigan State Spartans.
The sight was much more than Badger fans might have expected when Davis suffered the injury in last Sunday’s loss to Nebraska. But while Davis did not appear to be favoring his right ankle, his level of play was not near what fans have come to expect in a year that has made him a candidate for national honors.
Davis scored 11 points with 11 rebounds in Wisconsin’s 69-63 loss to Michigan State. He 3-of-19 shooting, including 0-for-5 from beyond the 3-point line, was far off the pace for the All-American who averages 20 points per game. He is the first Wisconsin Badger player to average 20 or more points since the great Michael Finley accomplished the feat during the 1994-95 season. The La Crosse, Wisconsin native also averages eight rebounds per game, incredible for a 6-5 guard.
Davis wore the disappointment on his face following the game.
“Just missed shots,” he said. “It happens in the game of basketball.”
Davis started out tonight’s game shooting 1-for-10 from the field in the first half and didn’t score his first point until the 2:27 mark.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard did not appear to place any restrictions on the number of minutes played for Davis. During the season Davis averaged 34 minutes per contest, tonight he finished the game right on his average playing 34 against the Spartans. He may have played even more minutes tonight if he didn’t run into foul trouble in the second half.
Davis picked up his second and third fouls within 1:18 early in second half, forcing him to the bench with 14:19 remaining in the game. He returned to the floor a few minutes later, only to pick up his fourth foul at the 5:30 mark, again forcing him to the bench for a couple of minutes. Davis was back on the floor following the under four-minute media timeout with 3:36 remaining, but he struggled to gain any rhythm the rest of the contest.
Gard acknowledged that the lack of practice time for Davis leading up to the tournament may have played a factor in his performance. “I’m sure getting back into a normal practice routine and getting into a rhythm will help him a lot,” Gard said. “It looked like he’s been out of a rhythm in terms of what he’s done in practice, and he was because he was obviously working his way back from last weekend,” Gard said.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo credited his team’s defensive effort against Davis, but he acknowledged that the injury suffered last weekend likely played a factor. “Johnny Davis is really good,” Izzo said. “We put a lot into him. We had bigs helping, we had guards helping. But we did do a pretty good job on Johnny. And I’m sure the injury had something to do with it.”
Davis and the Badgers will now have to watch the rest of the tournament from home, awaiting Selection Sunday to discover their destination for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. For the Badgers to make to an extended run, Davis will have to recapture the rhythm and timing that made him the Big Ten Player of Year.