Those nine Badger points arrived via three 3-point buckets, all against a packed in 2-3 Irish zone that had previously helped limit Wisconsin to just 2 of 12 shooting from beyond the arc.
All Big-10 candidate Jon Leuer dealt the first blow, knocking down a top of the key 3 over 6'1" Irish freshman Eric Atkins. Tim Jarmusz followed with an inside-out wing three, and Badgers point guard Jordan Taylor dealt what appeared to be a decisive blow, hitting another triple in a scramble situation to give Wisconsin the contest's first instance of breathing room in a back-and-forth title affair.
Unlike teams of the recent past when faced with a stout defensive foe, Mike Brey's Irish never folded, eventually cutting the lead to two, 45-43, thanks to an offensive rebound and put back of his own miss by senior Scott Martin. Martin had previously knocked down three free throws after absorbing a corner foul beyond the arc.
Though the Badgers answered with a Leuer 3-pointer to extend their advantage back to five, Notre Dame's defense, and Brey's smaller lineup, owned the final four minutes, ripping off 15 consecutive points to bury Wisconsin.
Brey's decision to go small – sitting a bottled up Tyrone Nash in favor of freshman Eric Atkins – paid dividends as the Irish finished the contest by beating the Badgers to the spot…and the ball, defending the arc, rebounding, and ultimately connecting on seven free throws plus a key Tim Abromaitis offensive board and that gave Notre Dame its first lead since the halftime break.
The Irish received free throws from Carleton Scott, Eric Atkins, and Ben Hansbrough - the latter on a Hansbrough steal-and-score, to close out the contest as Wisconsin came away empty from long range.
The tournament MVP for his three-game effort, Scott led the Irish with 12 points and 7 boards while Atkins netted 12 as well, nine over the game's last seven minutes. Abromaitis added 10 points and a game-high 9 rebounds while Hansbrough also scored 10 while chipping in with six boards in 38 minutes.
Each of Notre Dame's starting five corralled at least six rebounds while none of Notre Dame's six regulars scored fewer than six points.
Wisconsin was led by Leuer's 19 points though it took the 6'10" shooter 16 shots to reach that total. Senior point guard Jordan Taylor added 14 points and 5 assists with just one turnover over 38 minutes in a losing cause.
Both teams connected on just 35 percent of their shots from the floor but the Irish out-rebounded the Badgers 43-28 while holding a 13-6 edge on the offensive glass. As has been their wont over the first seven games, Notre Dame enjoyed a crippling edge from the charity stripe, connecting on 20 of 25 free throws to Wisconsin's paltry total of four in four attempts (all by Leuer).
Notre Dame shot 105 free throws (hitting 76) over the three-game tournament. Vanquished opponents Georgia, California and Wisconsin collectively hit 20 of a shockingly low 33 attempts.
The win marked Notre Dame's first tournament championship since taking down No. 9 Maryland and No. 2 Texas in the BB&T Classic in December 2002.
Notre Dame (7-0) entertains Indiana State Tuesday night at the Purcell Pavilion before battling both Kentucky (in Louisville) and Gonzaga (in South Bend) the following week prior to an 8-day final exam hiatus.