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Bronson Koenig's late heroics help Wisconsin salvage third place in the 2K Classic

Bronson Koenig used the second option to engineer the winning bucket for Wisconsin - himself. Koenig's driving layup in the closing seconds earned the Badgers a third-place finish in the 2K Classic with a 74-73 victory over VCU.

NEW YORK – Bronson Koenig prevented the Big Apple from being a big dud for the University of Wisconsin.

Shaking off one of the worst performances of his young career last time out, Koenig scored a game-high 22 points, including the game-winning layup with 5.9 seconds left, to propel the Badgers to a much-needed 74-73 victory over VCU in the 2K Classic third-place game at Madison Square Garden.

“Everyone has those games,” said Koenig, referring to his 9 points on 2-for-12 shooting in the 10-point loss to Georgetown. “I thought I was rushing myself a lot, (and) allowed them (Georgetown) to rush the offense. I just slowed down this game, looked at the film, what I was doing off the ball screen was coming really wide off of them and not making contact with my man. I did a better job with that.”

Ethan Happ finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double while Nigel Hayes and Zak Showalter each chipped in with 10 points for Wisconsin (3-2), which rebounded from Friday night for what they hope is the first or many signature wins on the season.

VCU (2-2) got 21 points from senior guard Melvin Johnson, who appeared to deliver the winner one possession early when his free-throw line jumper went through the net with just over 30 seconds remaining.

Wisconsin called its final timeout to set up Koenig and Hayes on the left wing and everybody else cleared out. Hayes was the first option inside but Koenig had options for either a step-back jumper or a drive.

He chose the latter, delivered in one-on-one coverage against guard Doug Brooks with a spin move in the lane to gain separation and then when up-and-under 6-7, 250-pound forward Mo Alie-Cox with a left-handed shot off the glass.

“That’s a pretty good option for us,” said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, referring to Koenig. “He’s pretty good at attacking.”

“He overplayed me,” added Koenig.

The Rams pushed the ball up court instead of using its final timeout and Johnson’s deep 3-pointer missed everything as the buzzer sounded.

Two days after starting 0-for-9 from the floor, Wisconsin began a perfect 5-for-5, aggressively attacking the low post and hitting from the perimeter. Koenig’s 3-pointer at 19:01 was UW’s first points and a sign of things to come, as he finished 9-for-14 from the floor.

Happ scored five of the points, Hayes delivered a pair of assists, Khalil Iverson hit a jumper from the corner on a kickout from the lane and Vitto Brown hit a turnaround jumper. It was vintage Wisconsin, which made 9 of its first 12 shots and opened up a 22-11 lead by the second media timeout.

But then the wheels starting to come off. The Badgers committed four turnovers in five possessions and made just two field goals in a 6:20 stretch. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was so desperate to generate a spark that he put Koenig back on the floor with two fouls after sitting for 2:05, usually a no-no in the first half.

When halftime finally arrived, Wisconsin saw its 11-point lead turn into a 43-37 deficit, as 11 turnovers and only four made field goals in the final 11:11.

The Badgers made an uncharacteristic 17 for the game, a season-high, but saved itself by shooting 53.1 percent (26-for-49) compared to 42.6 percent (26-for-61) for the Rams. UW also won the rebounding battle, 37-30, for the fifth time this season.

Wisconsin made another push in the second half, engineering an 11-1 run to take a 55-51 lead with 12:34 remaining,  From that point on it was a grind, as Wisconsin couldn’t push the lead beyond six and the Rams unable to finally pull ahead until Johnson’s late jumper.

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