MILWAUKEE—Devin Harris and the Wisconsin Badgers swarmed back from the brink of elimination Friday, to engineer a second-half charge and down Richmond, 76-64, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Harris was held scoreless for two-thirds of the game, but managed to compose himself to lead the Badgers on a furious run of 19 straight scoring possessions, overcoming a 13-point deficit early in the second half.
"It started by getting that first basket," Harris said of his 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 50 seconds remaining. "We had to stay aggressive, and we got the transition game going and that opened a lot of stuff."
Running high on emotion and the benefits of playing in-front of a partisan Bradley Center crowd, the Badgers were able to mount a comeback by working the ball through the swing offense, drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line. Harris led the attack, aggressively pushing the ball up the court. The junior finished with just 11 points, but added six assists and three rebounds while having his touches limited and dealing with foul trouble.
"We picked it up in the second half intensity wise," said UW forward Mike Wilkinson, who scored a game-high 18 points. "After the first shot fell, we could just feel it. We got a favorable bounce on a couple of them and we started knocking down shots and it carried over to the defensive end. The intensity just kept rising. You have to give the crowd a lot of credit; they were great and they were loud."
The Spiders took a 32-25 lead into halftime after a 7-0 run over the final 1:47, capped off by Jermaine Bucknor's tip-in off of Reggie Brown's missed jumper as time expired.
Richmond connected on 6-of-8 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, with Brown and Mike Skrocki connecting on three and two, respectively. The Spiders shot 42 percent from the field in the first half and scored eight points off of six Badger turnovers.
Richmond guard Tony Dobbins, the Atlantic-10's two-time Defender of the Year, limited Harris' touches in the first half, holding Wisconsin's star player to 0-for-3 shooting from the field. Harris was forced to sit down after picking up his second personal foul with 3:05 remaining in the first half.
"(Dobbins) did a great job," Harris said. "In the first half, he took me out of what I wanted to do and (I) was pretty much a non-factor. A lot of credit on that is to his defense."
Sophomore guard Boo Wade proved to be the Badgers' lone offensive threat in the first half, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Wade, though, committed four turnovers after inheriting most of the ball handling duties due to Dobbins' defense of Harris. Wade finished with a career-high 16 points and played 37 minutes.
"This is the Big Dance," Wade said. "We knew going into this thing it was one and done; once you lose you go home. We weren't ready to go home yet. Coach (Bo Ryan) told us the same thing at half time; ‘If you guys want to go home, keep playing like you're playing.' We knew we just had to buckle down and had to do the things we did in the second half."
After an 8-2 Richmond run to start the second half in which Harris picked up his third personal foul, consecutive jumpers from forward Mike Wilkinson had the Badgers within eight points at the 12:39 mark. Harris' 3-pointer cut the lead to four. Wade and Harris converted four straight free throws and a fast break capped with a 3-pointer from Clayton Hanson had the Spiders reeling, as the Badgers took their first lead since 10:19 left in the first half.
"At a certain point any team who comes in with the credentials that (Wisconsin) has they aren't just going to lay down and quit," Dobbins said of the Badgers. "They aren't going to give up and throw in the towel. You know at a certain point the other team is going to make a run so you just try to weather the storm. All year long our defense has been the staple of the team, especially on the road. It's a little disappointing that we weren't able to get the stops."
Wilkinson's 3-pointer with 7:15 remaining gave the Badgers a two point lead, 52-50. It was a lead they would not relinquish.
"Making baskets, taking care of the basketball, making stops on defense, that's what made the difference," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "We felt Richmond couldn't keep making threes. They went 1-for-8 in the second half shooting those same shots. We were just playing the percentages."