WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Carrier Dome. The Xfinity Center. Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The University of Wisconsin was unimpressed with some of the better home court advantages throughout the country this season to register wins that are the highlight of its N.C.A.A. tournament resume.
But in front of a raucous Senior Day crowd, the Badgers weren’t able to add their old nemesis to the list.
An early eight-point lead melted under Purdue’s red-hot shooting, as the Boilermakers shot 62.2 percent in a 91-80 victory over Wisconsin at Mackey Arena Sunday night to end the Big Ten regular season.
The Big Ten’s top scoring defense at 63.5 points per game, Wisconsin (20-11, 12-6 Big Ten) saw Purdue past that total with more than 10 left, as the hosts go on a roll and didn’t relent.
“It seemed like everyone was hitting shots today,” said junior guard Bronson Koenig. “When they're making all those good shots, it’s hard to beat anyone.”
Although finishing in a four-way tie with Iowa, Maryland and the Boilermakers for third place, Wisconsin – based on the 2-3 record against the teams – will be seeded sixth and face the winner of Rutgers and Nebraska Thursday night in the Big Ten tournament.
It’s the first time the Badgers will play on Thursday since 2000 – a year that ended in the Final Four. But a deep postseason run will be nonexistent if Wisconsin can’t fix some of the lapses that caused them to give the most points since the 2011 Big Ten regular season finale at Ohio State.
Shooting above 60 percent in each half, Purdue (24-7, 12-6) put four players in double figures, got 15 of sophomore P.J. Thompson’s career-high 22 points in the first half and 23 in the second half from freshman Caleb Swanigan, who went 14-for-17 from the line after halftime to push him to a career-high 27 points.
The Badgers – who are 4-38 since Mackey Arena opened in Dec. 1967 – were only able to hang in the game because junior Nigel Hayes scored a conference career-high 30 points. During a five minute stretch late in the second points, Hayes scored all 13 of Wisconsin points.
“We’d have to had a perfect game offensively in order to match that,” said Hayes. “Some of their guys shot exceptionally well … Just tip our hats off to them.”
Wisconsin came out making 13 of its first 19 shots, going 5-for-10 from 3-point range and pounding the ball into the low post with Happ to build a 31-24 lead 13 minutes into the game.
The low post was the problem in Wisconsin’s 61-55 loss in Madison Dec.29. Not only did the Badgers’ defense give up a staggering 34 points in the paint and 36 rebounds, UW’s two frontcourt starters – Brown and Happ – combined for as many fouls as points (six) on 3-for-14 shooting in only 36 minutes.
Happ was in rhythm early, tripling his production in the first 6:08 by dipping to his arsenal of low post moves to create uncontested reversed layups, but the paint got more crowded for him (14 points, 5-for-10) and all of Brown’s nine points came from the perimeter. Guarding Purdue’s post players on defense was no picnic either.
“With their two 7-footers, it’s impossible to stop once they get it under the rim,” said Happ, who was under the weather and waddled out to meet reporters with ice bags strapped to both knees and his right shoulder.
Added Hayes: “It was kind of feels like a football game down there.”
But for a Wisconsin team that held 10 opponents in the regular season to season-low point totals, Purdue’s transition offense – and sophomore P.J. Thompson – quickly caught the Badgers. Thompson was a 5-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half, helping orchestrate a 10-0 run that wiped out UW’s seven-point lead in less than two minutes, and the Boilers scored on nine of its final 13 possessions, resulting in 24 points.
“We weren’t expecting Thompson to make six threes,” said Koenig, as Thompson made only 25 threes all season on 38.5 percent shooting.
Averaging 1.5 points per possession in a 45-39 halftime lead, Purdue shot 63 percent in the first half – a season-worst in a half for UW – and went 8-for-12 from 3-point range against a defense allowing only 5.8 3-point makes per game in conference play.
When the final horn sounded, Purdue scored 28 points in the paint, 25 on 33 free-throw attempts and 30 from the 3-point line on 19 attempts.
“I thought for a while the first team to play defense was going to win,” said head coach Greg Gard, whose team hung on due to shooting 57.1 percent and 53.8 from 3-point range in the first half but dipped to 31.3 percent in the second. “I thought it boiled down to 10 possessions, five in the first half and five in the second half that flipped it in their favor.”
The five flips in the second half came right out of the gate. Gard pulled Brown after a poor shot selection and being whistled for a foul trying to make up for it. Freshman Alex Illikainen – Brown’s replacement – fared no better, short arming a jumper and failed to grab and dive for a loose ball that led to a Vince Edwards’ dunk in transition.
“That set the tone in terms of giving them a lot of confidence,” said Gard.
In a span of three minutes, Purdue’s 7-0 run put the Badgers in a 13-point hole, and the hits just kept coming with the Boilers making seven of their first eight shots.
Each time Wisconsin started to make a run, the Boilermakers punched right back. UW’s 7-1 run cut the deficit to 66-57 with 7:55 left was answered by Purdue’s 3-pointers on the next two possessions.
When the Badgers started pressing and Hayes was able to get to the free throw line, cutting the lead to seven with 4:46 to go, Purdue answered with steady offense, few turnovers and going 11-for-12 from the free throw line down the stretch. UW never got back within two possessions.
“This is the last time we can lose,” said Hayes. “From here on out, we are only guaranteed two more games, and each game is win or go home. We know the sense of urgency we have to play with.”