Greg Gard had been close many times in recent weeks — first when he was in a one-possession game with Purdue in the final two minutes, then when he was tied with Maryland in the closing seconds, then when he was knotted with Indiana with 45 ticks left.
Three different times.
And yet his Wisconsin Badgers lost each game. Which left the school’s interim coach still in search of his first signature win since replacing Bo Ryan, who abruptly retired after beating Texas A&M-Corpus Christie last month. Gard entered the weekend with a 2-4 record. He’d beaten Green Bay and Rutgers, and that’s it. But the 44-year-old now has something impressive to put on his resume via what amounts to a three-month job interview thanks to Sunday’s 77-76 victory over fourth-ranked Michigan State.
“Pure joy,” said Wisconsin freshman Ethan Happ, who scored the game-winning basket with 10.2 seconds remaining. “We’ve been on the other end of that.”
Indeed, Wisconsin has.
But not this time.
“I think the young coach out-coached the old coach,” said Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, and whether that’s true or not is beside the point. Because the point is this: Greg Gard now has a top-five win on his resume. And, afterward, he received a pretty big endorsement from a future Hall of Famer who doubles as the greatest coach-in-waiting in history.
“He’s done a helluva job,” Izzo said.
Now to Michigan State.
The Spartans were ranked No. 1 in the nation only two weeks ago. Now they’re 16-3, about to fall out of the top 10 of the Associated Press poll, and they’re just 1-2 since Denzel Valentine returned from minor knee surgery. Complicating matters is the fact that Tum Tum Nairn is dealing with plantar fasciitis, meaning Michigan State was without its starting point guard Sunday and will continue that way for the foreseeable future.
Izzo said Nairn could miss two weeks.
Or a month.
Or the rest of the season.
And the Spartans are already two-and-a-half games out of first in the Big Ten standings.