Mike Wilkinson, Clayton Hanson, Sharif Chambliss, Zach Morley and Andreas Helmigk (Latrell Fleming was also honored prior to the game) played their final home game in front of a sold-out crowd at the Kohl Center and came out fired up, helping the Badgers build a 40-19 lead in a dominant first-half performance.
However, before the game even started, the emotions emerged for the seniors as they were announced to the crowd in a pregame ceremony.
One by one, the players were introduced to standing ovations as they marched towards center court. Chambliss walked out with his parents, Cherri Chambliss and Jameel Ghuari; Morley with his mother, Kathy; Helmigk with his girlfriend, Kristin, and her parents; Hanson with his parents, Michael and Karen; and Wilkinson with his parents, Margaret and Kendall, and his fiancé, Alexis Schrubbe.
"It was a nice honor just to get out there and be recognized with your parents," Hanson said. "And look in the stands and see people that have been supporting you through this whole thing. I just got a real proud feeling looking and seeing that whole supporting cast knowing how much that helped me."
Senior day was a special moment for each in his own way, but for all it was also presented a challenge: to accept and acknowledge the emotions but then do an about face and mentally prepare for the game at hand.
When the game tipped off the seniors were ready and they responded on the court.
"You just segment it, knowing that that's an important thing to recognize at the beginning," Hanson said. "You enjoy that time and recognize the importance of it and then get in the locker room, regroup and realize the task we had ahead. It's tough to turn around and have that feeling and turn around and get ready to compete. That was a challenge but we did all right and came out in the first half and played pretty well."
After missing their first two shots and turning the ball over once, the Badgers were kick started by an offensive rebound and layup by Wilkinson for the team's first basket. For the rest of the half, Wisconsin carried all the momentum and built as much as a 24-point lead.
"We played pretty well to start the game," Wilkinson said. "We might have to do this [senior day] every game now. The guys responded well and got ready for the game from the start. We came out and did what we wanted to do right off the bat. So I really don't think it affected us at all."
Wilkinson led the seniors and shared the team high with 14 points. He also grabbed five rebounds. The Blue Mounds, Wis., native has played every game of his career (123) and has started the last 91 contests.
When announced to the crowd prior to the game, it was Wilkinson who received the loudest ovation — a call of respect from the Kohl Center crowd in appreciation of five years of hard work.
"I still don't think it's hit me that this is the last game I'm going to play here," Wilkinson said. "With all the stuff before hand, the crowd was amazing like they've been all year. So I don't think it's really hit me yet that I'm not going to get out there and get to be in front of all those people."
Wilkinson received that same call of respect from both his own coach, Bo Ryan, and Purdue head coach Gene Keady, who coached his final regular season game for the Boilermakers Saturday.
"I told him he's what college sports is all about," Keady said. "He got better, graduated on time. He's what it is all about."
"[Wilkinson's] successful because of him and his work habits and what he learned at home in his upbringing," Ryan said.
"Mike did a great job," Ryan said. "Defensively, offensively. He'd like to have a couple passes back that he made but he's just Mike Wilkinson. Pretty soon in the dictionary instead of having whatever picture they have under steady they'll have Mike Wilkinson's picture. I don't know what they have now, but he's just steady."
"Just a young man who growing up realized some things early that hard work won't change in anything that you do," Ryan said. "There are just some people that go through life that get cheated. Mike's not going to get cheated."
In addition to Wilkinson, the four other playing seniors all started the game and contributed.
Hanson played 28 minutes and scored nine points on three 3-pointers, grabbed four rebounds and dished out two assists. Chambliss tallied a team-high three assists in 24 minutes. Morley led the team with six rebounds and also added four points in 18 minutes. Helmigk pitched in four points in 13 minutes.