It wasn't always easy for the Badgers, as NC State came out and dominated the first half. The Wolfpack drilled its first six 3-point attempts, and after a jumper from Jordan Collins, the Wolfpack led 23-13 with 10 minutes left in the half.
"In the first half we did a great job looking for each other," Ilian Evtimov said. "We made some great passes and everybody was knocking shots down."
Wisconsin center Mike Wilkinson picked up his second foul minutes later, and NC State fans must have been feeling good as he went to the bench for good in the half with just over nine minutes to play.
However, NC State couldn't capitalize on Wisconsin losing their best frontcourt player. Leading by eight when Wilkinson departed, NC State only managed to add one point to their lead before the break. The Wolfpack went into halftime leading 30-21, and a major reason was because of their strong defensive effort.
NC State limited Wisconsin to 38.9% shooting in the first half and forced 11 turnovers while allowing zero assists. The Wolfpack shot 45.5% from the field and an astounding 66.7% (6-of-9) from the 3-point arc.
Whatever Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said at halftime he better remember it because the Badgers appeared to be a different team in the second half. Shooting guard Clayton Hanson drilled a 3-pointer in the opening minute, and it seemed to give Wisconsin the confidence it needed to attack NC State's stifling man-to-man defense.
"[Ryan] said, ‘you can tell them that I gave you some profound speech at halftime' but really it was pretty straight forward," Hanson said. "We just wanted to get on the court and play Wisconsin basketball."
Hanson and point guard Sharif Chambliss drilled two 3-pointers each in the second half, and the last from Chambliss gave Wisconsin a 39-37 lead, which they would never surrender.
After the jumper from Chambliss, Alando Tucker simply took over the game. The 6'5 sophomore combo forward scored eight straight points for Wisconsin, and NC State didn't have anyone who could slow him down. With just over eight minutes left, Tucker scored on a reverse layup to give the Badgers a 47-37 lead, and they looked to be in control.
As NC State's done all year, the Wolfpack bounced back and never quit. Hodge's steal and layup at the 5:11 mark cut Wisconsin's lead to 53-49, but the Wolfpack would never get any closer than four points before losing 65-56.
Hodge and Evtimov, NC State's two leading scorers, struggled mightily against the Badgers. The duo combined to hit just 6-of-26 shot attempts while also registering eight turnovers. Hodge (4-of-16) never seemed to get in the flow on the offensive end, as he missed several easy opportunities around the rim and couldn't hit from the perimeter. Evtimov (2-of-10) also missed some inside baskets, and converted just 2-of-7 tries from beyond the arc.
"I played the whole game," Hodge said. "I played until I was absolutely exhausted, and I worked very hard on defense and offensively. It was a hard-faught game and unfortunately we weren't victorious."
"I think in the second half they probably did a good job adjusting to our offense," Evtimov said. "We just didn't make the plays. We had some open looks, and we just didn't convert."
Offensively, the lone bright spot for NC State was sophomore point guard Engin Atsur. Atsur finished with 16 points (6-of-12) while Cameron Bennerman added 10. Hodge finished with 14 points, five rebounds, and five assists.
Tucker led the way for Wisconsin with 22 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Wilkinson added 17 points while Zach Morley chipped in 10 points and a game-high eight boards.
Wisconsin was on fire in the second half, shooting 58.3% from the field while NC State shot just 32.1%. The Badgers also won the battle on the glass, outrebounding NC State 35-21.
The game concludes the brilliant career of NC State guard Julius Hodge, who will be remembered for what all he's accomplished at NC State.
"This was Julius' final game at NC State, and I don't know where to begin other than to say that he personifies everything that's good about college basketball," Sendek said. "He had an amazing career, and I certainly thank him for all he's done for the program and what he's meant to all of us on a personal basis."
Wisconsin (25-8) will play North Carolina Sunday afternoon with the winner advancing to the Final Four. NC State (21-14) saw its season come to an end, but with four starters returning next year the future remains bright in Raleigh.
"[There are] still great things yet to come," Hodge said. "There's a core of experienced players returning in Ilian, Cameron, and Engin. The young guys, the trio nucleus in Cedric Simmons, Gavin and Brackman. Those guys are great, young players and if they continue to work hard I know they can avenge this feeling right now."