BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – A young team going on the road into a hostile building couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Wisconsin – playing its first road game since Dec.2 – scored 22 points on its first 18 possessions, had things clicking defensively and had quieted an Indiana crowd that was in a jovial mood with the 1976 national championship team ready to be honored at halftime.
But as fast as things started for the Badgers, the offense quickly vanished and it didn’t come back until it was too late.
Despite holding the conference’s best scoring offense in check, Wisconsin’s offense went into one of its usual scoring tailspins, making only three field goals in a 20 minute, 20 second stretch, and couldn’t recover in a 59-58 defeat to Indiana at Assembly Hall Tuesday.
It was the fourth one-possession loss for Wisconsin this season, which couldn’t take advantage of 19 Indiana turnovers and have only themselves to blame for a plethora of missed opportunities.
“Part of that falls back on me,” said junior Nigel Hayes. “Last year when we were in these close games, we had the older guys – Frank (Kaminsky), Josh (Gasser), Sam (Dekker), Duje (Dukan), Trae (Jackson) and those guys – always found a way and brought us along to win those games. I need to start doing a better job of that myself.”
Bronson Koenig scored seven of his 15 points in a 1:46 stretch in the second half to try to save Wisconsin (9-7, 1-2 Big Ten), but the Badgers shot 9-for-25 from the field and 2-for-10 from 3-point range in the second half.
After back-to-back double-digit scoring games, including a 24-point night against Green Bay when he shot 7-for-8, Hayes again struggled from the field, finishing 3-for-13 from the field, 1-for-5 from the 3-point line and 8-for-11 from the free-throw line. The only 3-pointer he made was at the buzzer.
Hayes has had 11 games this season missing at least eight shots, including six missing at least 10, and is shooting 37.4 percent this season after tweaking his shot.
“We should have won,” said Hayes. “Just looking at the score sheet after the game, we lost by one, had a lot of opportunities at the free throw line. I missed three myself. I make one of those we’re in overtime. I make two out of three misses, we’re a one-point winner.”
Indiana (13-2, 3-0) started 6-for-6, but had six turnovers in first 12 possessions, leading to nine UW points and a 14-13 lead at 11:42 in the first half. The Hoosiers didn’t miss a shot until there was 11:32 remaining in the half but the misses started to snowball. IU went 6:39 without scoring, allowing Wisconsin to turn a 6-point deficit into a 9-point lead.
That’s when Wisconsin’s momentum stopped. After taking its 9-point lead – the largest lead of the game - with 7:58 left to the 7:38 of the second half, Wisconsin made only three baskets and had three shot-clock violations – a recipe for disaster no matter who UW plays and where.
“We were all trying to get the ball inside, like we were all game, and control the tempo,” said Koenig. “We let it get a little out of our hands for those couple of stretches where we were in a drought.”
It’s a shame because it wasted another really good defensive effort by a team that continues to improve on that end of the floor. Indiana entered averaging 87.7 points, best in the conference and sixth in the N.C.A.A. The Hoosiers scored only 24 in the first half and their total points were a season low, but made the critical plays to beat UW for only the second time since January 2008.
After Hayes tied the game at 53, bringing UW back to even for the first time since the 13:35 mark of the second half, senior guard Yogi Ferrell took over. He hit a jumper with 37 seconds left to put Indiana back in front and made it a two possession game with 13.7 seconds left on a pair of free throws.
The free throws came after a lengthy review to check a timing issue and after Ethan Happ’s less-than-stellar pass was swiped out Zak Showalter’s hands by Robert Johnson, who made up for a quiet day offensively (3 points, 1-for-4) with the defensive play of the game.
“What we wanted to look at was open,” said head coach Greg Gard, referring to Hayes in the low post. “We just needed to execute and compete the pass.”
After Happ (10 points, 8 rebounds) post bucket cut the lead back to two, Ferrell made two more free throws to ice the game.
“The main thing for us was getting stops defensively,” said Ferrell, who led all scorers with 19 points. “We came together, had a collective mindset that we were going to get stops.”
Indiana ranked second nationally in overall field goal percentage (53.4) and fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (45.1), but the Badgers held Indiana to 48.8 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range.
Needless to say, UW was good enough to win because of its defense, something positive it can carry into Saturday’s home matchup against No.3 Maryland.
“I’m proud of how they battled, and we’ll get better,” said Gard. “We have to. This league is not for the faint of heart.”