COLLEGE PARK, MD – Notice has been served: the Wisconsin are for real once again.
Call it a Valentine's Day eve shocker, as the Badgers, led by a career-high 21 points from Vitto Brown, picked a part No.2 Maryland on both ends of the floor for a convincing 70-57 victory at the Xfinity Center Saturday.
After starting the conference season 1-4, Wisconsin (16-9, 8-4 Big Ten) has won seven straight, including three over ranked opponents. Interim Head Coach Greg Gard, who possibly came one game closer to remove the 'interim' from his title, called it, “the most complete 40 minutes we've played this season.”
“I'm extremely proud of my guys,” he added, “and I couldn't be prouder to call myself their coach.”
After being held scoreless in the 63-60 loss to Maryland in Madison Jan.9, Brown delivered his second straight career-high scoring performance, including three 3-pointeres and seven rebounds, to give Maryland (22-4, 10-3) its first home loss to a conference team since joining the league last season, not to mention seeing its 27-game home winning streak end with a thud.
A first half dominated by Wisconsin, seeing the Badgers go on a 28-5 run after being down 14-7, carried throughout the game with tremendous balance. Wisconsin made 12 3-point field goals, 12 free throws and 11 2-point field goals, building a lead as big as 16 points in the first half that was never chipped below six.
“We've been saying we could play with anyone in the country for a while,” said junior Bronson Koenig, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half. “They beat us on a last second shot at home and it shows how much we've improved.”
Added Maryland Head Coach Mark Turgeon: “We lost the game in the last 10 minutes of the first half. Our effort was good enough in the second half.”
Leaning heavily on the bench for the next eight minutes, Gard watched the Terrapins cut the Badgers’ lead to six at 10:48, as UW could only manage three 3-pointers with the two starters sitting. With the score 45-39, Gard called timeout, put Showalter and Happ back on the floor and rolled the dice.
“We need to get back to what got us to this point,” Gard said of his timeout speech.
Needing to stymie Maryland’s 18-9 run, Wisconsin rebuild the lead to 12, withstood another run that cut the lead to eight and put the game away for good on Showalter’s 3-pointer on a two offensive rebound possession and Brown’s 3-pointer on the next possession to make it 59-48 with 3:48 to go. The lead never dipped below 11 with UW closing the game 7-for-9 from the line.
After being put back on the floor, Showalter has six points, Happ had five rebounds, two steals and an assist and neither committed another foul, helping UW register a huge 20-4 edge in second chance points.
“I thought they (Wisconsin) executed offensively terrific,” Turgeon said, “As much as we were double-teaming and trying to get them out of their stuff, they still used 30 seconds every time. Sometimes they made shots. Sometimes we made steals late.”
Getting 17 points from Rasheed Sulaimon, Maryland ended the game with eight steals to go with nine blocks. Happ, the Big Ten's steals leader, garnered four steals to pace the Badgers.
After hitting a 26-footer just before the buzzer that was the difference maker in the first meeting, Melo Trimble was pestered constantly by Wisconsin and finished with only 10 points on 1-for-14 shooting. Drawing the assignment, Nigel Hayes made up for a 4-for-12 shooting night by applying the pressure while his teammates squeeze the driving lanes. As a result, Trimble had five of the team’s 12 turnovers.
That resulted in Wisconsin started the game on a 7-2 run, weathering a 12-0 run and scoring the next 17 points with a combination of post touches, perimeter shots and free throws to take control of the game, especially with its defense holding Maryland without a point for 8:22 and without a field goal for 10:51.
“Coach said we have to hit them in the mouth, as everyone says, and take it to them,” said Hayes. “In the Michigan State game, they gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, and we thought we could do the same.”
In the second half Maryland pressed after all made baskets and forced seven turnovers and threw double teams whenever Hayes or Happ got the ball in the post. That resulted in kicks out to the perimeter and knocking down open shots, as UW went 6-for-14 from 3-point range in the first half and 6-for-12 in the second.
“They were doubling our bigs in the post, and we did a good job of getting the ball out and knocking down the shots,” said Koenig.
UW also managed to mostly stay poised after Maryland freshman Diamond Stone tackled Brown following a loose-ball scramble and pushed his head to the floor as Stone was getting to his feet, setting off a pushing-and-shoving match with 1.8 seconds left in the first half. Stone was assessed a contact flagrant one technical and Wisconsin freshman, and Maryland native, Charlie Thomas was also assessed a technical foul.
“We had a jump ball,” explained head referee DJ Carstensen. “The two players fell to the floor. We had a contact deadball technical foul against 33 White (stone) then we had an unsporting technical foul against 15 Red (Thomas). It was a flagrant one foul. That's what we deemed it. We say that was a flagrant one contact foul. The ball was dead and there was contact … Unsporting was 15 Red for what he said, verbal.”
No matter the end result, it was a little more fuel thrown on to Wisconsin’s fire.
“If anything it helped us out,” Brown said of the fracas. “It was like a rally for us. We came together and we (said) we’re not going to let them disrespect us.”