MADISON – Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter has walked into the postgame media room 10 previous times after seeing his team fall to his mentor, citing his team’s lack of toughness, discipline and patience as a reason for the outcome.
The 11th time turned out to be the charm against the University of Wisconsin.
Jeter’s Panthers made the ugly Wisconsin show up again by playing the way the Badgers usually do - tough, gritty and confident. The result was another shocking home loss for Wisconsin and, quite possibly a program-defining win for Milwaukee in a 68-67 victory Wednesday.
“When it came down to it, it was just some basic plays, some ordinary plays, as Coach (Bo Ryan) talks about all the time,” said Jeter. “To do something extraordinary you have to do it ordinary.”
It’s the second shocking home loss for Wisconsin (6-4) against a mid-major opponent this season. But unlike the season-opening loss to Western Illinois, where so many new roles on the roster were still being defined, the Badgers were coming off back-to-back impressive wins at No.14 Syracuse visiting Temple and looked to be steadily taking steps forward over the last week.
Not anymore. Wisconsin collapsed when Milwaukee (7-3) shoved the Badgers’ style of basketball right back in their face, doing the little things – take charges, grab loose balls and get to the free throw line – that Ryan’s teams usually have a patent on down the stretch.
“The best way you can repay a mentor, a father figure, an uncle, a brother, a friend like Bo, is just try and put a team on the floor that plays well and plays the way he taught me to play the game,” said Jeter. “We played the game the way he taught me to play it. Our guys played the only way we had a chance to win a game like this.”
The Badgers, however, rushed possessions and, according to junior Nigel Hayes, didn’t follow the pinpoint scouting report from the Wisconsin coaching staff of chasing defenders, forcing point guard Jordan Johnson (22 points) to his other hand and a handful of other offenses.
“We did not do our job,” said Hayes. “Our coaches work extremely hard to give us the recipe for wins. When you don’t execute, this is what happens.”
Hayes finished with a career-high 32 points, shot at least 50 percent of the field (9-for-18) for only the second time this season and went 12-for-19 from the free throw line, the only blemish being two missed free throws with 24 seconds left. He got little help from his teammates, who shot 11-for-37 (29.7 percent). Bronson Koenig finished 5-for-16, including 2-for-10 in the second half, and Vitto Brown went 1-for-9 with three turnovers, including a crucial offensive charge call with 57 seconds left and UW down 66-64.
“He needed some help from his teammates,” Ryan said of Hayes. “Some of the things we did there down the stretch … I mean, you’re going to have your 6-9 center (Brown) drive three-quarters of the court and try to make a one-on-one move to the basket. How often are you going to see that?”
Even with Wisconsin shooting 7-for-24 (29.2 percent in the second half) and playing without the lead for the final 3:07, the Badgers still had an opportunity to salvage things in the final 13 seconds.
After a pair of free throws for Milwaukee (the Panthers went 6-for-6 over the final 3:07 and 22-for-27 in the game), Koenig hit a 3-pointer – his first bucket since the 14:49 mark – and forward J.J. Panoske lost the handle on the ensuing inbounds pass, causing him to travel diving to the deck with 11.2 seconds left.
But when Koenig’s cross-over-step-back jumper bounced off the front rim and the mad scramble produced nothing, Milwaukee’s players charged the court and loudly celebrated all the way back to the locker room.
“We’ve had some tough nights at the Kohl Center,” said Jeter.
A year ago Wisconsin – a roster chalked full of veterans – thumped Milwaukee, 93-54, on the road. This year had a similar feel through the first 12 minutes. Wisconsin went 11 of 19 from the field (57.9 percent), made both 3-point attempts and converted six offensive rebounds into 11 points. Most importantly, UW didn’t commit a single turnover.
After having six different players score six points in the first half in Saturday’s win over Temple, Wisconsin showed its balance in a different way against the Panthers, scoring 14 points in the paint, 11 off free throws, 9 on 3-pointers and six on jumpers.
That changed in a hurry in the second half, as Milwaukee brought energy from the locker room and quickly cut the lead to four.
“These in-state games, teams will always find a little extra to bring,” said Hayes. “We didn’t match that and this is the result we get.”
Milwaukee, which only previous victory over Wisconsin came in 1992, constantly tightened the screws around Wisconsin over the course of the final 20 minutes.
Once down 15 points in the first half, Milwaukee chipped away with a 7-0 and 8-0 run in the second half to chip the margin down to 51-49 with 9:38 left. From that point on it was a slugfest with the Panthers doing most of the punching, as Wisconsin went 8:49 without a field goal
“We couldn’t buy a basket for a long stretch … and it’s a one point game,” said Ryan. “Go figure.”
Wisconsin out rebounded Milwaukee, 45-29, the 10th straight opponent UW has out muscled on the glass, but were far from the aggressors over the final minutes.
It’s another ugly lesson for a young group that added another ugly blow to its resume.
“If that (last) shot goes two more inches, we’d be celebrating right now but that doesn’t hide the flaws,” said Koenig. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on, just listening to the scouting report and not taking any team lightly. I thought that hurt us that we really didn’t have a sense of urgency.
“When they were coming back, we were kind of acting like they weren’t going to keep scoring on us and we’re going to get it back. That didn’t happen.”