Wisconsin’s offense wasn’t always pretty, but the Badgers still found a way to string enough key baskets together, something they have struggled to do at times this year. Wisconsin suffered through one scoring drought starting at 16:27 in the second half - going four minutes, 33 seconds without a field goal. Even with Wisconsin allowing Syracuse to take the lead back during that stretch, allowing them to take a six point lead with 11:07 to go in the game, the Badgers were able to find a way to crawl back into the game.
Even with Wisconsin going down by six and starting the half shooting 3-for-11, Bo Ryan wisely called a timeout to help gather his players. They certainly rose to the occasion, close out the second half shooting 7-for-14 from the field to help force overtime.
Overall Wisconsin shot 25-for-60 (41.7 percent) from the field with four starters reaching double figures. Ethan Happ (18 points) and Nigel Hayes (15) were the two leading scorers for Wisconsin, did not leave the floor in the second half or overtime and both recorded a double-double. Scoring 11 of his 14 points in the first half, Vitto Brown hit a critical 3-pointer with 5:01 to go to give UW a 48-47 lead, and Bronson Koenig finished with 12 points on 3-for-9 shooting from the field. He also hit a big 3-pointer to tie the game at 53 with 1:25 remaining.
In order to beat Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, Wisconsin was going to have to find ways of making shots from the perimeter and finding gaps in the low post. While the Badgers shot 5-for-18 (27.8 percent) from 3-point range, UW found success inside by scoring 30 points in the paint (20 more than they had in the 17-point loss to Oklahoma Sunday). It also helped Wisconsin that they were able to attack the offensive glass, finishing the game with 16 offensive rebounds that resulted in 18 points.
Ryan will be happy with how scrappy the offense was and the aggressive on the glass but the 20 turnovers UW finished with his alarming. The last time Wisconsin won a game committing at least 20 turnovers was against Valparaiso in 2007. At times it was good defense by Syracuse and other times Wisconsin had poor communication or simply wasn’t paying attention. Happ and Hayes led Wisconsin each with five turnovers as Syracuse was able to cash in Wisconsin’s 20 turnovers into 16 points.
Wisconsin’s defense was going to have to find a way to slow down and consistently contest the Orange from 3-point range, as Syracuse entered the game shooting at least 40 percent from three over the last four games. Despite Wisconsin having one of the worst 3-point shooting defenses in the country, Wisconsin showed they are capable of defending, as Syracuse struggled to find the same kind of rhythm they had through its first six games of the season. Wisconsin held them to 29.2 percent (7-for-24).
Michael Gbinije was the only player for Syracuse to find any success from the perimeter, as he finished the game 4-for-8 to score a game-high 19 points in 45 minutes. Trevor Cooney was the only other player for Syracuse to reach double figures with 14-points on 3-for-10 shooting, as the other Syracuse starters combined for 15 points on 6-for-19 from the field. Overall Syracuse shot 20-for-56 (35.7 percent) from the field.
The reliance of the Orange to shoot the perimeter shot gave Wisconsin a chance at consistently coming up with the rebound, as the Badgers tracked down the long rebounds off of a missed three and limited the possessions. Wisconsin’s defense consistently boxed out Syracuse’s frontcourt, holding them to six offensive rebounds and only seven second-chance points.
Syracuse’s 14 points in the paint were the fewest Wisconsin has allowed this season, a sign that the Badgers are getting better at low-post defense, becoming more physical with the opposition and limiting easy looks. Wisconsin’s frontcourt did a very good job of contesting nearly every shot, as the Badgers registered seven blocks in the game (Brown 3, Happ 3, Hayes 1).
For a young team, Wisconsin certainly showed a lot of fight and grit to get a win that will certainly help down the road with its confidence, especially since the Badgers will certainly be in a lot of close games when they enter Big Ten play. Wisconsin still needs to clean up the turnovers, as many of the mental mistakes could have been avoided, but the Badgers were able to win the loose ball battle and were able to draw defensive charges.
Zak Showalter (six points) may have committed four fouls in the game but his aggressive nature on defense helped disrupt Syracuse’s offense. He registered one of Wisconsin’s four steals but, more importantly, was able to draw two charges, giving him nine on the season. The first charge Showalter drew in the first half helped spark a 16-4 Wisconsin run in favor of Wisconsin, as momentum swung in UW’s favor during a stretch where it went 7-for-12 from the field and limited Syracuse to 2-for-10.
To generate that kind of run to create some breaking room, Wisconsin needed to make plays on defense. During that stretch, UW created two of Syracuse’s 11 turnovers in the game. Wisconsin was able to generate 12 points off its errors. UW also needed to limit Syracuse to one shot per possession to help keep Syracuse from getting into a consistent rhythm. For an eighth straight game UW won the rebounding battle, 51-25.
The strong defense continued into overtime with Wisconsin limiting Syracuse to 1-for-9 shooting. With the Badgers starting to take control of the game in overtime and build a lead, Syracuse had to start fouling to try and extend the game. Wisconsin was able to keep Syracuse at an arm’s length by going 7-for-7 from the free throw line in overtime and 11-for-12 (91.7 percent) in the game.
All five Wisconsin starters played at least 39 minutes, with Hayes played 44 of the 45. The three-man freshman bench didn’t contribute much, as they combined to play 16 minutes and shoot 0-for-6 from the field. Only Charlie Thomas scored off the bench on a lone free throw.
Game MVP: Ethan Happ. He certainly made his mistakes like everyone else, but Happ delivered when Wisconsin needed him to with 18 points on 8-for-15 shooting from the field in 43 minutes. Happ moved well without the ball in the second half and was able to cut Syracuse’s lead of two at the 2:11 mark tow ith a dunk before the time expired on the shot clock. Simply put, Happ was able to make his presence felt by scoring in the paint and limiting Syracuse to one-shot possessions. His 15 career-high rebounds gave him his third double-double of the season, and he also finished the game with three assists, two blocks and two steals.