Sophomore Alando Tucker scored a career-high 27 points and senior Sharif Chambliss added 15 off the bench as No. 25 Wisconsin (3-1) outlasted No. 12 Maryland (3-1), 69-64, in front of a sellout crowd at the Kohl Center.
With five seconds left and Maryland trailing just 67-64, Chambliss switched off a perimeter screen and knocked the ball from the Terps' Nik Caner-Medley, who had just moments before hit a three-pointer to pull Maryland to within 66-64. UW senior forward Zach Morley snagged the loose ball, drew a foul from Caner-Medley and hit two of his three clutch free throws in the last 30 seconds to give the Badgers their 31st straight home victory.
The win was also the first for the Big Ten conference in the 2004 ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
"That was a statement game," Tucker said. "There were a lot of doubts out there. We're a strong team and we couldn't handle the ball [against Pepperdine]. And guys showed, Sharif came in and gave some great minutes… and it showed that we have guys that can handle the ball. It was a statement game."
For Tucker, the game was unquestionably his strongest performance as a Badger.
As both teams battled out of the gates, it was Tucker that came out bubbling with energy and ready to carry the Badgers on his shoulders. Scoring 16 of the team's first 20 points, Tucker single-handedly kept not only his team but the crowd in the contest.
Behind a mix of slashes and aggressive moves to the hoop, Tucker connected on five of nine shots from the field in the first half but more impressively got to the free throw line 13 times and connected on 10 en route to 20 points in the game's first 20 minutes.
For an obviously emotional Bo Ryan in both the post game interview with ESPN and the postgame press conference, Tucker's performance was something he has been anxiously waiting to see, especially after seeing him sit out last season with a foot injury and slowly make his way back to his old form.
"As strange as it's going to sound, having him standing there and doing an interview, it flashes through your mind that for a year he's sitting down, he's struggling, he's still working through some things to make sure it doesn't happen again and it's always on his mind," Ryan said, with tears welling up in his eyes. "He's playing now. Forget about everything else and play. I was smiling because I was just so happy for him. That was what we needed. His teammates got him the ball but he worked to get into position. And he delivered.
"I was just so happy for him to have the opportunity, to be doing an interview like that. I think he was pretty happy too."
"Confidence-wise, it helped me out a lot," Tucker said. "I'm getting back to being comfortable on the court…every game, every practice I'm getting stronger and stronger mentally and physically. I feel like I'm getting back to my normal self."
Tucker had 24 points with 15 minutes left in the game but the Terrapins held him to three points the rest of the way. Fortunate for the Badgers, a trio stepped up and carried them to the finish line.
One of those was the ever-emotional, energetic Chambliss, who played by far his best and most complete game as a Badger to date.
Playing as the sixth man Tuesday night, Chambliss came in off the bench early and made an impact immediately, especially on the defensive side of the ball. With starter Kammron Taylor struggling to orchestrate the UW offensive attack and at the same time having a tough time stopping the penetration of Maryland point guard John Gilchrist, Chambliss came in and slowed down the Terps' attack and helped keep the ACC squad scoreless over the final 2:43 in the first half, helping the Badgers take a 38-32 lead into halftime.
"I felt comfortable out there tonight and it was a great win for our team," Chambliss said. "But, defensively we had a great team effort tonight. If we got beat out on the perimeter, our big guys went chest up and it was just a great team effort."
In the second half, Chambliss' impact and leadership were even more evident, especially in the final 90 seconds.
Wisconsin led by as many as seven in the second half but the Terrapins made a charge in the final two minutes and cut UW's lead to 59-57 with 1:57 remaining. Chambliss, though, connected on his third three-pointer of the game with 1:28 to play to push UW up by five. Defensively, Chambliss shut down Gilchrist down the stretch—Maryland' s point man was held off the scoreboard for the final 22:43 and his last of eight assists came with 2:29 left.
Then, with the Badgers up three, on the defensive and looking to prevent any late-game heroics from, it was the former Penn State standout that got the big play.
"Gilchrist comes out, hands it off to Caner-Medley, me and Zach switch the perimeters because we know there isn't much time on the clock. And just swing up," Chambliss said. "I used to watch G.P. [Gary Payton] do it so I just stuck my hand out there and the ball ended up in my hands."
For the game, Chambliss' overall performance at the ‘1' position was better than any UW point guard has done this year. And for the first time this young season, the Badgers started to look more like the years in the past on the both sides of the floor.
The Badgers committed 12 turnovers—a huge improvement from their 22 in their last outing versus Pepperdine. Despite getting out-rebounded 41-32, UW forced 18 errors from Maryland and also drew 24 fouls, which in turn led to 21 free points from the charity stripe.
Combined with the energetic spurts on both sides of the court from freshman Brian Butch off the bench and 12 second-half points from Morley, the Badgers were able to win in a true team fashion in an exhilarating, emotional, tough game similar to the best of UW's rivalries even in the Big Ten.
"I'm pretty excited," Ryan said. "And I tried not to get too low after the other night. You keep your bearings tonight and I just like the way the guys responded in the game....the Sunday night after a red eye, not one guy was dogging it. They weren't looking for any sympathy. Their weren't any pity parties thrown. I think the guys just came ready to accept what we were preparing for. The next game.
"I sure like the way they did it."