The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team started the season’s first month with a 6-2 record. They began December with a great victory over their instate rival Marquette Golden Eagles before they jumped into their first two Big Ten matchups. They welcomed their initial conference opponents, the Maryland Terrapins and Iowa Hawkeyes, with open arms as they took down both teams in intense and emotional duels.
The Badgers’ first conference game of the season came at home against undefeated No. 13 Maryland. Both of these teams had plenty of confidence heading into this game. The Badgers beat Marquette 80-77 in a gritty overtime duel. The Terrapins were coming off a serious high following a 71-66 victory at home over the No. 16 Illinois Fighting Illini.
Wisconsin jumped out to an early 2-0 lead before Maryland tied it 2-2. After that, it was all Wisconsin. At the 6:09 mark, the Badgers had extended their lead to a 27-15 lead. Unfortunately, the Badgers have shown this season they are not good at sustaining big leads. Over the final six minutes of the half, Maryland went on a 14-4 run to cut the lead to 31-29 at halftime.
Through the initial 14 minutes, the Badgers shot 11-20 FG and 3-8 3PT. In the final six minutes, they shot 2-6 FG and 0-4 3PT. They were so successful through the first 14 minutes because they went to the basket and got layups, but then they reverted to their old selves and just relied on the three-ball.
After not holding the lead for a single second in the first half, Maryland got the lead at 33-32 just 1:17 into the second half. They held that lead for 1:42 before it went right back to the Badgers.
Wisconsin pushed its lead to 37-33 and held onto it for a while before Maryland snuck back into the lead at 43-42. At the 9:36 mark, Maryland tied the game at 45-45. After 3:05 passed, Connor Essegian hit a three to put the Badgers up 53-45. They were able to take full advantage of a lull by Maryland which turned out to be one of the defining moments of the game. At the 3:46 mark, the Badgers pushed their lead to double digits at 58-47.
Maryland finished the game on a 12-6 run, but it was not enough and Wisconsin held on for a 64-59 victory.
Overall in the second half, the Badgers shot 7-21 (33%) FG and 4-9 3PT. One of the most important reasons they were able to come away victorious was their free throw shooting. It was not pretty as they shot 15-25 in the second half, but those 15 points were crucial. In the first two minutes of the half, they had four free-throw attempts and only made one. In the final 7:01, the Badgers shot 10-13 from the charity stripe. When it mattered the most they knocked down their free shots to hold off Maryland.
Player of the Game
The person most deserving of the player of the game for the Badgers is Chucky Hepburn. He scored a team-high 13 points on 4-8 shooting including 2-4 3PT and 3-3 FT. Hepburn also recorded four rebounds, two assists and one steal. His defense as usual was spectacular which made him the best all-around player for Wisconsin.
It has been a similar road for both of these teams coming into this game. They both won their previous game, the Badgers beat Maryland and Iowa topped their instate rival Iowa State Cyclones 75-56. The Badgers won three of their last five while Iowa lost two of the three prior to Iowa State. Wisconsin lost to No. 3 Kansas and Wake Forest by a combined four points while Iowa lost to TCU and No. 15 Duke by an average of 12.5 points. It has been a bit rocky as of late for both, but they aimed to keep winning streaks going.
Much like the Maryland game the Badgers grabbed the early lead and did what they could to hang on to it. They went up 6-0 before Iowa scored their first points at the 14:39 mark. The Badgers reached their largest lead at 15-8, but then they fell asleep and in less than two minutes Iowa was only down 15-14.
Wisconsin got back to scoring as they extended their lead to 25-19 at the 3:01 mark. With just 33 seconds before halftime, Iowa’s Patrick McCaffery hit a shot to put Iowa up 27-25. In pure desperation mode, Hepburn was able to salvage the Badgers’ final possession of the half with a beautiful jump shot to send it to half tied at 27.
The Badgers shot 13-31 (41.9%) FG which is not bad, but the thing bringing the percentage way down is their 1-11 from beyond the arc. The Badgers have been notorious for racking up a ton of three-point attempts, but not always succeeding. This was the ultimate disaster half in this particular category. When they got to the basket they were very successful at 12-20 with a staggering 22 points in the paint, but despite this, they still felt they needed to throw up poor deep shots.
It was an absolutely horrific first few minutes of the second half. Wisconsin made their first two shots of the half to go up 31-27, but after that it was rough. Over the next 3:04, Iowa went on a 10-0 run to take a solid 37-31 lead. During that span, the Badgers forgot how to make good shots as they had three consecutive possessions where they hoisted threes that were nowhere close. Following that they went to three straight possessions with turnovers because of terrible decision-making.
At the 10:34 mark, the Hawkeyes made the Badgers pay for their poor decision-making by pushing the lead to 58-52. It felt like Iowa had all the momentum until the Badgers started spreading the ball out. After around four minutes, Wisconsin went on a 9-0 run behind baskets from Max Klesmit, Carter Gilmore, Tyler Wahl and Hepburn. At the 5:22 mark, Iowa cut the lead to 53-52 and it took until the 54-second mark for Iowa to score again. With just under a minute Iowa was down 60-52 and with a meltdown from Wisconsin, McCaffery nailed a three for the Hawkeyes to tie the game at 60 with 14 seconds remaining.
With a stagnant final possession for the Badgers Hepburn missed the jumper and the game went to overtime.
After four and a half minutes where Iowa could not score they suddenly couldn’t do anything but score. Thankfully the Badgers were able to go step for step. The Hawkeyes began overtime with a basket from McCaffery who was also fouled on the shot and completed the three-point play. That free throw became increasingly important as Wisconsin kept knocking down shots, but only two pointers so even when they responded Iowa stayed in front.
After Iowa’s Tony Perkins put Iowa ahead 69-66 it all began to shift. For the first three minutes, the Badgers understood what made them successful and that is getting to the basket so they had not even attempted a three. At the 1:59 mark, Wahl pulled up from straightaway behind the arc and knocked down a spectacular game-tying three. A few seconds later McCaffery was able to complete a three-point play to go up 72-69. Eight seconds later Jordan Davis nailed a massive three to tie the game.
Up 76-73 with 18 seconds remaining Wahl had a chance to put the game away with two free throws but missed both. Iowa was able to record a bucket to cut it to 76-75. Essegian had a chance to run out the clock but with an open basket, he slammed home the exclamation mark. With the final shot, McCaffery had to launch one up and it nearly went in, but the Badgers escaped with a 78-75 victory.
Player of the Game
It seems clear Tyler Wahl should be named the player of the game. He posted a team-high 21 points on 9-14 shooting as well as seven rebounds, three assists and four steals. It was easily one of his best games of the season with great production on all sides of the ball. He did an incredible job of getting to the basket for easy layups. He bullied Iowa all game which was a defining factor.
The Wisconsin Badgers look excellent this season and they certainly have not backed down from a challenge. After two tough losses in November, they have been perfect to start December with wins over Marquette, Maryland and Iowa. The Big Ten is always tough but starting conference play against these two excellent teams is no joke. With all the odds pointing towards their opponents, the Badgers have put together some amazing performances to win both and begin Big Ten play 2-0. The Badgers finish December with three non-conference games all at the Kohl Center.
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