In a three game free fall since New Years Eve, Wisconsin finally pieced together some good shooting to lead by as many as 18 points, but slowly watched it chipped down to as little as two in the second half in an arena it barely wins in.
Call it a collective sigh of relief or the basketball gods finally balancing out the last two weeks, but Wisconsin is back on track after winning in the most improbable of places.
"We've been talking about all year, all summer, all fall in our workouts, being road warriors, getting some big wins on the road, (and) this was near the top of the list just because we haven't been very successful here," said sophomore Josh Gasser, one of the five Badgers in double figures to help UW win, 67-62, against Purdue at Mackey Arena for only the third time since 1968.
"Coming here getting a win is exactly what we wanted to do. We've just got to start something now."
Following Sunday's embarrassing showing on national television at Michigan, extending the losing streak to three games, junior Mike Bruesewitz called an impromptu team meeting at a local-area Perkins restaurant for a late night breakfast get together. The talk involved very little about basketball, but more so was an opportunity for everyone just to relax.
The results showed with Wisconsin (13-5, 2-3 Big Ten) shooting 47.5 percent (19-of-40) from the floor, 45 percent (9-of-20) from three-point range and 83.3 percent (20-of-24) from the free-throw line. The last time the Badgers hit those marks was at Nebraska December 27, which coincidentally was the last game UW won.
"We just had to stay tough," said Bruesewitz. "That was the biggest thing in the huddle I kept trying to tell everybody, ‘It's in your head, it's in your head. We've got to close this game out. We're not going to let them take it from us.'"
After going 11 games without reaching double figures in scoring, Bruesewitz was one of the big catalysts for Wisconsin, scoring 12 points, all on three pointers, and was one of three players to grab five rebounds before fouling out with 39.1 seconds left.
After attempting more than five shots only twice during that stretch, Bruesewitz found his groove.
"I guess I've been a little too passive," said Bruesewitz, as Wisconsin also outrebounded Purdue, 36-32. "Sometimes I have a good shot and I'll pass it up for a great shot. A little too unselfish at times, which is never a bad thing, but sometimes you've just to take a shot yourself.
"I just felt good shooting the ball. I had a couple go down at Michigan, which helped, and I shot the ball pretty well in practice this week. Coming out and knocking down the first one definitely helps."
Ben Brust led the Badgers with 13 points, Gasser scored nine of his 10 points in the first half and senior guard Jordan Taylor scored all 12 of his points after halftime, including going 8-for-10 from the free-throw line to help starve off Purdue's late charges.
"We just did a good job of keeping our composure," said Taylor, as UW made its final eight free throws in the last 30 seconds. "Just keep running what we were running, moving without the ball and getting good shots… We knew in the locker room that they were going to make a run. They're too good of a team, especially at home, to just kind of go away and lie down. Even at the end of the game there, that was probably the longest 47 seconds I've ever experienced."
Terone Johnson led Purdue (13-5, 3-2) with a career-high 16 points (but shot 4-of-13) and Robbie Hummel scored 13, but made just 5 of 17 shots after being hounded all night by junior Ryan Evans. After Hummel scored 21 points against the Badgers as a freshman in 2009, the senior has averaged 12.4 points per game in five meetings, but is a combined 20-for-67 (29.8 percent) over that stretch.
As a team, Purdue made just 21 of 61 field goals overall (34.3 percent) and went a backbreaking 12-for-22 from the free-throw line, including D.J. Byrd missing 3 of 5 free throws following a three-point foul and a technical on UW coach Bo Ryan protesting the call in the first half.
"I just didn't shoot the ball well," said Hummel. "I had some looks that I didn't knock down. Guys did a good job of finding me and getting me the ball, but that's on me. I've got to make those shots."
After being outscored a combined 30-15 before the first media timeout in Big Ten play, Wisconsin finally found the shooting touch that had evaded them throughout conference play.
Making a combined 15 three-pointers and shooting 21.4 percent from the perimeter in the last three games combined, Wisconsin started red hot with five different players making a three-point attempt on six chances in the first 5:26.
Not only did the Badgers make eight of their first nine shots and lead at the first media timeout for the first time in Big Ten play, the Badgers jumped out to a 22-4 lead, forcing Purdue coach Matt Painter to burn two timeouts in less than two minutes to try and correct his team's problems.
"We were a little stagnant on offense the last couple of games, and tonight we came out with a lot of energy and a lot of guys were making really hard cuts," said Bruesewitz. "We moved without the ball exceptionally well."
The timeouts worked, as the Badgers missed their final eight three-pointers of the first half, went nearly seven minutes without a field after leading 26-8 and saw Purdue cut the lead down to 11 twice in the first half, foreshadowing of its second-half run that was yet to come.
Purdue went on a 13-0 run to close the gap to 45-43 with 10:48 to play, but Bruesewitz responded with a three-pointer on the next possession. After a jumper cut the lead to four, Bruesewitz and Brust hit three-pointers on consecutive possessions to push the lead back to nine in a blink of an eye. Purdue didn't get it back to a one possession game until there was one second left on the clock.
"You need plays like that," said Ryan. "People have been making them against us."
Thankfully, that's all in the past now for Wisconsin.