The Badgers rode the euphoria of senior day to a seemingly insurmountable 40-19 lead at the break, but a combination of ice-cold shooting and careless ball-handling allowed a feisty Boilermakers squad to creep back into the contest, before UW prevailed 64-52.
Alando Tucker and Mike Wilkinson, who played integral roles in UW's first-half dominance, paced the Badgers with 14 points each, while David Teague led Purdue (3-13 Big Ten, 7-20 overall) with a game-high 17.
With its third straight win, Wisconsin improved to 11-5 in the Big Ten and 20-7 overall, clinching third place in the conference and the school's third consecutive 20-win season, a program record.
"I'm proud of these guys," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "That's all anything like that ever means to a coach."
The Badgers will next play at the United Center in Chicago in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal Friday at 8:10 p.m., against the winner of Thursday's game between the sixth seed (Iowa or Ohio State) and No. 11 seed Penn State.
Before Saturday's game, a very appreciative crowd celebrated the Badgers' six seniors and retiring Boilermaker coach Gene Keady. But that merriment quickly gave way to a blasé main event.
Wisconsin started its five playing seniors but received a boost from Tucker, a regular starter who served as a reserve for the first time this season. The sophomore entered 3:03 into the game and just nine minutes later had deposited all 14 of his points, his 3-pointer with 8:02 left in the first half giving UW a 29-8 lead.
"If I can come off [the bench] and play like that all the time I don't mind," Tucker said of his relief role. "It was fun. I was cheering the [seniors] on because I knew it was a big game for them."
Wisconsin's first-half jump, however, gave way to a second-half fog. After shooting 52 percent in the first half, the Badgers shot 32 percent after halftime and turned the ball over eight times.
"I think Wisconsin thought they had it made, typical human nature stuff and they probably let up a little bit," Keady said.
The adrenaline that propelled UW to a strong first half was sorely lacking after intermission.
"Doggone halftime," Ryan said. "I don't know why they have it sometimes. But, it just seemed like we couldn't get it going again in the second half."
After being embarrassed in the first 20 minutes, Purdue came out of the gates in the second half with intensity, harassing the Badgers with a full-court trapping defense and a half-court zone defense, the latter to a rare extent for a Gene Keady coached team.
"I think when a team is used to another program playing only man-to-man they get to standing around and thinking instead of running a regular offense," Keady said. "That's what we want them to do and I think they did it."
It also helped the Boilermakers cause that they shot 48 percent in the second half, after a dreadful 32-percent performance in the first 20 minutes.
Wisconsin led by as many as 24 in the first half, but Teague's 3-pointer with 3:34 left in the game capped a 10-3 Purdue run and made it 56-47 UW.
Kammron Taylor, though, made a pair of free throws 29 seconds later and hit a 3-pointer at the 2:26 mark to give the Badgers a 61-47 edge. Taylor's triple, which silenced Purdue's rally, was one of only two Badger field goals in the last 12 minutes. Taylor also made 4 of 6 free throws down the stretch.
"What they were doing by eliminating some things in the post is we needed to attack and Kam's the guy on our team that can attack," Ryan said. "He's the guy that can put it the floor and split a seam and he got to the free-throw line, which is what he needed to do."
The Boilermakers held one lead, a 2-0 edge on Brandon McKnight's layup 43 seconds into the action. But the Badgers scored the next 13 points, including seven from Wilkinson, and took a 13-2 lead on Clayton Hanson's triple with 15:10 left in the first half.
"We did what we wanted to right off the bat and shots were falling," Wilkinson said. "Everything was going well."
After Purdue's second bucket, UW rattled off a 9-0 run and led 22-4 at the 11:48 mark. The Badgers built a 31-8 lead on Taylor's layup at 7:24, and built their largest lead of the first half, at 40-16, on Hanson's triple at 2:16.
Tucker had 14 points in the first half and Wilkinson added nine as UW went into halftime up 40-19.
Notable: About 20 minutes before game time UW celebrated seniors Latrell Fleming, Andreas Helmigk, Sharif Chambliss, Zach Morley, Clayton Hanson and Mike Wilkinson, presenting each with flowers and a plaque with their photograph to commemorate their time as Badgers… Following the national anthem, UW assistant coaches Greg Gard, Rob Jeter and Gary Close and head coach Bo Ryan each gave retiring Purdue coach Gene Keady an engraved golf club. Ryan also presented Keady with a certificate for a trip to the Whistling Straits Golf Resort in Kohler, Wis., which hosted the 2004 PGA Championship.