MADISON – It was only a matter of time before the University of Wisconsin would shake a shooting funk that had hovered over them since late Wednesday, a dark cloud that had cost them a pair of in-state wins and plenty of uneasy moments.
Make no mistake that there are still plenty of problems for a young team to fix but at least the Badgers got enough shots to drop to avoid another ugly setback, grinding out an ugly 64-49 win over Texas A&M Corpus Christi Tuesday night in what turned out to be Bo Ryan’s final game as head coach of Wisconsin.
“Since I’ve been coaching, there’s been 15 years of games around finals time, believe it not I’ve seen some that were a little bit more haywire,” said Ryan. “It’s tough time to play, but our guys found themselves (and) ended up doing some pretty good things.”
Forward Ethan Happ and guard Bronson Koenig scored 15 points and junior Vitto Brown registered his first double-double (12 points, 16 rebounds) for Wisconsin (7-5), which shot 64.7 percent in the second half to break a two game losing streak and got its best RPI win of the season (the Islanders entered 35th).
“I was extremely proud of Vitto to get a double-double,” said Ryan, “and just keep battling.”
Expecting a test against a team with eight seniors, second most nationally, Wisconsin never hit a stride offensively but grinded out possessions and tried to make things tough defensively against a team averaging 71.5 points over its six game winning streak.
UW did that by attacking and getting to the free throw line, something they were negligent in against Marquette.
With Texas A&M Corpus Christi (7-3) averaging 23.1 fouls game, Wisconsin spent nearly 22 minutes of game time in the bonus, including the last 12:24 of the game, and scratched out points from the free throw line.
Drawing 24 fouls, Wisconsin made 18 free throws on a season-high 31 free throws.
The makes were minimal but proved beneficial during a 7-0 run early in the second half, as UW went 4-for-4 from the line to push a five-point lead into double figures for the first time and helping gloss over 15 Badgers turnovers.
Koenig is still struggling from 3-point range (6-for-16 over his last three games) but shot 5-for-11 – one of three Badgers to make five baskets – and stayed fairly consistent after shooting 3-for-11 Saturday against Marquette’s constant double teams.
The game lacked flow from the beginning and stayed that way throughout much of the game. Wisconsin started 0-for-10 from the field, missing on six straight jumpers before taking its problems inside. During one possession, Brown missed two shots from the right block in a five-second span.
Both he and Wisconsin recovered to a degree. Brown’s eight points and 10 rebounds helped the Badgers carve out a 27-19 halftime lead, despite going 9-for-27 from the field.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi put three players in double figures but couldn’t take advantage of UW’s empty possessions by shooting only 32.8 percent (19-for-58). Leading scorer Rashawn Thomas scored 12 points but played only 19 minutes saddled with foul trouble.
“I didn’t think we came out with very much intensity, very much focus,” said TAMU-CC head coach Willis Wilson. “I felt like we had some opportunities to convert, and we lost a lot of confidence over the course of the game.”