But with Milwaukee holding all the momentum after reeling off a 21-4 run to tie the score and No.14 Wisconsin needing a big shot to turn the tide, there was no doubt in the Badgers' huddle of who was going to make the key shots.
After missing the mark in back-to-back losses two weeks ago, Wisconsin's All-American showed cold water still runs through his veins. Taylor scored seven of his team's final nine points and half of his 14 points down the stretch, including a dagger 3-pointer with less than a minute to go, to lead the Badgers to a 60-54 victory over Milwaukee Tuesday night in front of 10,143 fans at U.S. Cellular Arena, the largest regular-season home crowd in school history.
"How can you not want a guy like that taking a shot?" questioned junior Jared Berggren, who led all scorers with 17 points. "When it comes down to it, we all have confidence in him to make that big shot. I think the majority of the time he's going to come through for us."
The end result was far from expected early in the second half, not with Wisconsin (9-2) seemingly controlling the post and tempo in building a 44-27 with 15 minutes, 17 seconds left. Slowly but surely, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan saw his team get away from its fundamentals, miss 6-of-7 shots, turn the ball over three times and see Milwaukee (8-3) hit three consecutive 3-pointers in a 10 minute span to pull even.
Human nature would say the Badgers were blindsided but it provided Taylor a platform to finally shake off some cobwebs.
"It's a mental thing, putting it in your pocket of mental toughness," Taylor said. "You just have to hang in there and do a better job and be tougher."
It started with Jared Berggren hitting a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to give UW a 51-48 lead. Following a dunk by Milwaukee's Ryan Allen, Taylor unleashed a spin move in the paint that resulted in an uncontested layup for his first points since the 19:22 mark of the second half.
There was more to come. After knocking down two free throws to make the score 55-50 and seeing his counterpart, Kaylon Williams, follow with a layup of his own, Taylor stood at the top of the key, saw Allen sag off slightly to give him an opening a hit a 3-point dagger to make the score 58-52 with 41.8 seconds left.
Milwaukee never cut the lead below four again.
"To do a good job, you've got to finish," Taylor said. "I missed a lot of layups, which is frustrating, but I was just trying to make a play and help my team win any way that I could. I took the shot and I was fortunate to have it go down."
Despite his savvy leader going four for his last 23, junior Ryan Evans didn't even go for the rebound, as he started jogging back to the defensive end after seeing ‘the look' in Taylor's eyes.
"To tell you the truth, I knew it was going in," Evans said. "The look in his eyes, when you know he's going to hit a shot, he had that look … Him down stretch, he's big time."
Shooting an average of 23.4 3-point attempts per game entering Tuesday, Wisconsin went 6-of-14 from the perimeter, a season low in attempts, but didn't need to rely on the perimeter shot until Taylor's three because of the damage Berggren and Evans was doing inside.
Playing off the guards and seeing the Panthers trying to lock down the perimeter, Evans scored a career-high 16 points by doing his damage in the post and going 6-of-7 from the free throw line. Add in Berggren's 6-of-8 from the line, Wisconsin shot 80 percent (16-of-20) from the line.
Throw in his 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks at No.5 North Carolina in UW's only other road game, Evans is averaging 13 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and has only one turnover on the road this season
"I have always been someone that enjoys road game for some reason," said Evans, who is averaging 11 points away from the Kohl Center. "I take it as a challenge. The fans are yelling at you, and that kind of gets my adrenaline going."
Missing starters Ja'Rob McCallum (10.0 ppg) and Kyle Kelm (9.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), Milwaukee started a rocky 3-of-18 (0-of-6 from 3-point range) from the floor as Wisconsin built a 22-8 lead in the first 13-plus minutes because of Evans' ability on both ends of the court. Offensively, he was a matchup program for the Panthers, resulting in 10 first-half points coming from his aggressiveness on the low post.
Defensively, he teamed with Berggren to limit Haarsma to only four points and two rebounds in the first half, but UW saw Haarsma (11), Tony Meier (team-high 15 points) and Evan Richard (10 points) all score a combined 27 of Milwaukee's 34 second-half points.
Still, UW's defense was good enough to distract Meier enough to miss his last four 3-point shots.
"If you have players that have enough moxie and enough toughness and grit, they'll find ways to win," Ryan said.
The arena was far from a hostile environment just over an hour from Wisconsin's campus and plenty of red shirts sprinkled throughout the historic arena, but consider it another kind of nonconference test Wisconsin survived and will take when it starts conference play at Nebraska Dec.27.
"These are huge, especially for later in the season, knowing we have been there and endured that feeling and pull it out," Evans said. "That's a good feeling, and that's going to be huge for us down the stretch."