The NBDL's Charleston Lowgators gave Wisconsin all it asked for in the team's second and final exhibition game of the 2003-04 season.
In the end, though, the Badgers had just enough to win, pulling out a 102-95 victory.
Midway through the second half Wisconsin looked poised for a blowout win, pulling out to a 17-point lead for the fourth time in the second half when Freddie Owens made a layup to make it 76-59 with 12:06 remaining.
"We knew we would get a heck of a game," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "I'm sure glad we made a little run, because we certainly needed it."
Led by Tierre Brown, who scored 25 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, Charleston fought back, pulling to within 92-88 with 1:41 left to play.
Free throws were key down the stretch. Badger junior guard Devin Harris, who went 13 for 16 from the line, hit two free throws at 1:16 to give Wisconsin a 94-88 lead.
Brown, though, followed with a three to make it a one possession game at 94-91 with 1:10 remaining. Owens and Boo Wade hit four straight free throws, though, to put Wisconsin back up by seven.
"I liked they way we hit free throws," said Ryan, whose team made 35 of 42. "If we are not hitting those free throws its their ballgame."
Brown hit 11 of 16 shots in the second half, but missed a three-point basket with 41 seconds left, allowing Wisconsin to milk the clock and trade free throws, moving out to 100-93 edge.
Brown hit two free throws to make it 100-95 with 17 seconds remaining but the Lowgators could get no closer. On the ensuing out of bounds play, Harris put an exclamation point on the evening, catching a home run pass from Zach Morley and dunking it to close out the game's scoring.
Harris led the Badgers with 28 points and nearly finished with a triple-double, tallying nine assists and seven rebounds. Harris also had two steals and two blocks and only two turnovers.
"We would love to have him in our league," Lowgator coach Doug Marty said. "But he'll probably be an NBA draft pick. He is so quick off the dribble, very hard to contain. And very active, just a great athlete and a super basketball player."
Charleston's late run was predicated on defensive pressure, with a full-court press that flustered the Badgers otherwise efficient offense.
"When they decided to get physical and push and hump and grab and do whatever they had to do, and then it is just a matter of what type of game it is going to turn into," Ryan said. "We got a little tentative. We were trying to run our offense and guys couldn't make cuts. The way you get a foul is you cut real hard when they are doing that and a couple guys figured that out and then we got to the free throw line."
Charleston, which plays in the NBA's quasi-minor league, is a collection of former college stars, most of whom have some experience in foreign professional leagues or in the NBA. Brown played 15 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season and had spells with the Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors in the NBA preseason. He played 40 games with the Houston Rockets in 2001-02. An NBA scout was on hand Monday evening, assessing the NBDL players.
"Those guys are trying to get in league, they are a phone call away from the league," Ryan said. "It is a little bit different then the other exhibition teams that we've played in that I think they have a couple guys that have already been in the league and I'm sure Brown will be back."
Wisconsin begins its regular season on the road this Friday at 5 p.m. against Penn. The Badgers sent a starting five of guards Harris, Owens and Wade, forward Mike Wilkinson and center Dave Mader to the court Monday evening. In addition to Harris, three Badgers contributed double figure scoring totals: Wilkinson (18), Wade (15) and Owens (14). Wilkinson also had five assists.
Junior forward Zach Morley received starters' playing time, with 25 minutes. He contributed nine points and six rebounds, tied with Wilkinson for second on the team. Clayton Hanson played 16 minutes and scoring six points, while Kammron Taylor (nine, three), Ray Nixon (eight, 2) and Ike Ukawuba (3) also saw action.
Mader played 16 minutes and contributed seven points and four rebounds. Wade, who did not play in the first exhibition due to a sprained MCL, played 26 minutes and had five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
In addition to guard/forward Alando Tucker and forward/center Jason Chappell, who are expected to return to action in mid-December, Wisconsin played without forward/center Andreas Helmigk, who has not practiced in about a week with an ankle injury.
The Badgers fell behind early in the game until they made adjustments to Charleston's up-tempo offensive game that often featured a player leaking down court as soon as Wisconsin put up a shot.
A three-point basket from former Wake Forest player Tony Rutledge gave the Lowgators their largest lead of the evening, 25-16, with 10:28 left in the first half.
The Badgers, though, answered with a 10-0 run over the next 2:23 to take their first lead since holding a 10-9 edge just more than four minutes into the contest.
Shortly after Wade's bucket in the paint made it 25-18, Harris took over. Harris picked Chuck Edison's pocket and drew a foul, hitting both free throws to close the gap to five. Wilkinson set up Wade for other conversion in the paint on Wisconsin's next possession. Two Lowgator possessions later, Harris grabbed a defensive rebound and drove to the paint, pulling up to make it 25-24 at 8:34. Then, as they did many times during this contest, Harris and Wilkinson executed a fantastic pick-and-roll, with Harris finding his fellow junior cutting to rim for a layup to give Wisconsin a 26-25 edge.
The Lowgators did not back down though and, as they did during spurts throughout the contest, exhibited a great deal of skill and athleticism, finding cracks in the Badger defense to get open looks and earning second chance opportunities.
With 5:46 remaining in the first half, Lowgator forward Ime Udoka got a steal and drew a foul, hitting two free throws to give Charleston a 34-30 advantage.
The Badgers, though, answered the challenge, going on a 19-4 run to close out the half.
Kammron Taylor started the rally at 5:28, hitting from behind the arc on his only shot of the game. Wade followed with two offensive rebounds and put backs, giving Wisconsin a 37-34 lead.
Brown temporarily stopped Wisconsin's run at 4:02 with a jumper to pull the Lowgators within 39-36, but Harris answered with a fast break layup about a minute later.
Freddie Owens put the exclamation point on the run, knocking down two wide open three-point baskets to make it 49-38 at the half.
"They broke us down off the dribble… they are very very patient and well coached on offense, getting high-percentage shots," Marty said. "We didn't get through screens well, their flex cut was killing us, they are very, very efficient."