Turnovers hurt any chance of Wisconsin establishing a rhythm on offense, eventually sinking any opportunity to advance to a third straight Elite Eight. The Badgers’ 17 turnovers were their highest since committing 26 against Green Bay and resulted in 16 Notre Dame points.
Despite Wisconsin committing a high amount of turnovers, the offense found a way to consistently play with the lead, but it was only a matter of time before the miscues were going to catch up with them. That happened in the final 13 seconds, as three turnovers eliminated any chance of Wisconsin holding on to the lead or mounting a comeback.
With Wisconsin up 56-55 with 16 seconds left, Nigel Hayes did a poor job of protecting the ball when he tried to split a double team, losing the handle of the ball when another defender swarmed in. The Irish had two fouls to give before Wisconsin would be in the bonus, but Demetrius Jackson was able to poke the ball away from Hayes and deliver a layup to give Notre Dame its third lead of the game. Notre Dame never trailed again.
On Wisconsin’s ensuing offensive possession, Bronson Koenig was able to get to the hoop but never got the contact he was bracing for, causing him to be too strong with his layup attempt. After two made free throws by V.J. Beachem to give the Irish a three-point lead, Koenig was stripped of the ball by Jackson as he was running up the floor.
Although Notre Dame played strong defense, at times the Badgers were simply careless with the ball. There were instances where there was miscommunication between the Wisconsin players, thinking their teammates would be in one spot and ended up throwing the ball out of bounds.
Wisconsin shot a decent percentage - 23-for-57 (40.4 percent) from the field – and put three players in double figures. Ethan Happ led the way with 14 points and 12 rebounds, his 10th double-double of the season, and Zak Showalter (5-for-10) and Nigel Hayes (4-for-12) each scored 11 points. Koenig and Vitto Brown each had eight points on a combined 6-for-20 shooting from the field.
Finishing the game with 13 offensive rebounds, Wisconsin was able to give itself second-chance opportunities and outrebounded Notre Dame, 36-32. Unfortunately Wisconsin only converted its offensive rebounds into 13 points.
Wisconsin’s defense was strong in the first half, as they were able to consistently disrupt the rhythm of Notre Dame’s offense by holding the Irish to 24.1 percent (7-for-29). Although Wisconsin’s defense didn’t let up on the defensive pressure, things started to turn around for the Irish on offense and shot a much more efficient 57.7 percent (15-for-26) from the field.
When Wisconsin’s defense needed to make a big stop, the Badgers couldn’t find a way. Although keeping Notre Dame’s offensive threats in check for most of the game, eventually Jackson, Beachem and Zach Auguste found a way of figuring out the UW’s defense.
Of the three, Beachem was the most consistent throughout the game. He led Notre Dame with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including making three of the Irish’s four 3-pointers. Jackson was second with 16 points (only 6-for-18 from the field) and Auguste was third with 13 points (4-for-9) and 12 rebounds. Overall Notre Dame shot 40 percent from the field.
Wisconsin did a good job of limiting Notre Dame to points off of second chance opportunities, as the Irish finished with 10 points off 11 offensive rebounds, but the Badgers again struggled in the low post. Notre Dame scored 26 points in the paint, and Wisconsin wasn’t able to contest many shots with only four blocks, two of which were by Khalil Iverson.
Wisconsin was active early by forcing seven first-half turnovers but could only register five in the second. Four players committed at least two turnovers, but Wisconsin’s struggling offense could only convert the Irish miscues into nine points. Wisconsin was able to register eight steals with Koenig, Happ and Hayes all having two.
For a second straight game one of Wisconsin’s key players dealt with foul trouble. Wisconsin only committed a total of 15 team fouls, 10 of which came in the second half, but Happ fouled out of his first career game. When Wisconsin sent Notre Dame to the line, the Irish made UW pay by going 13-for-14 in the game, including 10-for-10 in the second half.
Wisconsin had its chances of pulling away from Notre Dame but the Badgers could never find a way of going on a run. UW led by as many as nine points in the first half and as many as eight in the second half, but Notre Dame always found a way to climb back into the game.
Wisconsin did well of weathering each comeback, able to deliver a counterpunch to retake the lead. A 3-pointer by Brown with 28 seconds put UW up 56-53 and looked like the shot it needed to push UW to the finish line, but the Badgers allowed Jackson to get to the rim uncontested and the snowball kept rolling from there.
Wisconsin was able to get the ball down low and score 30 points in the paint, a renewed emphasis in the second half that led to 18 points. Happ attempted five of Wisconsin’s first six field goals but he converted only two of them, missed opportunities that ended up costly.
While Wisconsin’s defense held Notre Dame without a field goal for extended periods of times, the offense couldn’t take advantage either or get to the free throw line. The Irish only committed nine for the game. UW shot only six free throws (four makes) that helped Wisconsin’s offense down the stretch.
The results from the bench were mixed, as the group combined for four points and eight rebounds but committed three turnovers in 36 minutes. Jordan Hill (16 minutes) register five rebounds and a steal that he converted into a layup to give UW a five-point lead.
Game MVP: Ethan Happ. Despite fouling out, Happ did a little bit of everything. He shot 50 percent from the field (6-for-12), led Wisconsin in the second half with four made field goals and had two steals, one block and an assist. Happ also did a good job of finding ways to keep offensive possessions alive with six offensive rebound.