As the game-winning shot fell softly through the rim, and the Kohl Center crowd erupted in raucous celebration, Taylor ran back toward the Badger student section, his arms thrust emphatically into the air. Taylor's teammates soon caught up to him and euphorically swarmed in around him. Taylor emerged from that throng jogging jubilantly toward the Wisconsin bench, popping his jersey as he went. He would return moments later, urging the student section to continue cheering to their hearts' delight.
"I was excited," Taylor said with a huge smile, trying to express his emotions. "I don't know what more I can say, I was excited, cause I hadn't been playing that well... except for the last five, seven minutes of the game. It felt good to hit that shot. My teammates believe in me and I knew they did and that's what gave me even more confidence."
Taylor's 3-pointer at the buzzer capped a wild second-half comeback Monday night as the Badgers survived visiting UNC Wilmington's (7-2) gritty play to come away with the 54-51 win.
"We told (our players)," said UW coach Bo Ryan, whose team improved to 8-1. "By far, just look at the RPIs, we knew we were playing the best team we had played all year."
Neither team could get the lid off the basket for the first 33 1/2 minutes, but they each turned it loose in the final 6:30, trading basket-after-basket.
Taylor missed his first eight shots from the field but came alive late in the second half to lead the Badgers' rally. He hit three clutch baskets in the final minute to score UW's last eight points:
- Taylor scored on a hard drive to the lane and drew a foul, converting the three-point play with 53.3 seconds left to give UW a 49-46 edge, their first lead since midway through the first half.
- After UW called timeout with 33 seconds left, Taylor rubbed off a high screen and pulled up from the right elbow, draining a jumper with 14.5 seconds left to put UW up 51-49.
"For him to struggle the whole first half and us to see that and him still to have the guts (to shoot)," junior forward Alando Tucker said. "Those big plays right there, where he stuck with it and grinded it out just set it up for him to make that (game-winning) shot."
Following UNCW sophomore forward Todd Hendley's lay-in to tie it with six seconds left, the Badgers called timeout. Sophomore guard Michael Flowers in-bounded to Taylor, who weaved his way up the court, calmly dribbled to a spot outside the arc and drained the game-winning triple.
"Kammron Taylor got loose [from] us," UNCW coach Brad Brownell said. "….He does what good players do. He's a playmaker and he made shots."
Taylor finished with 13 points while Alando Tucker led the Badgers with 15. UNCW's T.J. Carter led all scorers with 19.
With less than seven minutes left UNCW led 35-32 and the two teams had combined to shoot 31 percent (25 of 81) from the floor.
Then an amazing thing happened. The Badgers and Seahawks made shots. Lots of them. UNCW made six of its last nine field goals and nearly matched UW shot-for-shot during an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better epidemic.
Wisconsin made just 10 of its first 35 shots (29 percent), but knocked down 8 of 9 (89 percent) in the final 6:30 to pull out the win.
"We knew each basket was going to be a battle," Ryan said.
Tucker, who was hounded relentlessly all game long, often double or even triple teamed when he tried to make a move, drilled a 3 to tie it at 35 apiece, but Carter answered with a 3 just 23 seconds later.
Tucker missed a jumper on UW's next possession but the ensuing scrum resulted in a jump ball at 5:47 and the Badgers retained possession.
UW's Taylor then drilled a 3 from the right corner, snapping his 0-for-8 shooting slump, but senior forward Beckham Wyrick knocked down a 3 of his own and the Seahawks led 44-41.
Tucker's leaner in the lane closed the gap to one, but UNCW made its fourth straight shot with Lay's jumper for a 46-43 edge.
After a Tucker turnover, Lay had a chance to put UNCW in command, but his 3 bounded harmlessly off the rim. Carter, a 24 percent 3-point shooter who made 3 of 6 Monday, missed a triple with 2:04 left.
Flowers knocked down a 3 with 2:30 left to tie it at 46-46, setting up Taylor's heroics.
Taylor's dramatic final minute overshadowed what had been the game's storyline from nearly start-to-finish. UNCW's intense, scrappy defense set the tone from the opening tip. The Seahawks did a terrific job denying entry passes to the post and closing out on shooters. As a result, the Badgers looked frustrated, and their offense out of sync, for much of the game.
"It was very tough," Tucker said. "They are similar to us. They help, rotate quick. They are good defending the 3. And the whole game, until the last couple minutes, that's when shots started falling, but it seemed like they were helping and recovering very well, especially when they were doubling the post."
At halftime the score was tied 16-16. UW only led for 2:19 of the first 20 minutes, its last first-half lead at 9-7, 9:29 before halftime.
Sure, less-than-stellar shooting played a role, with each team failing to take advantage of its share of open looks, but UNC Wilmington's defensive intensity was the real key against a Badger team that was playing its third game in five days.
"We've been an unbelievable defensive team all year," Brownlee said. "What we haven't done as well is play offense. Where we lost the game in a lot of ways is at the offensive end, or with our impatience… We didn't finish plays.
"We got a lot of great looks at the beginning of the game and should have been ahead. Obviously we caught Wisconsin at a good time, after playing Marquette, not having as much time to prepare for our guys."
The flow of the game made for some ugly numbers. Thirteen minutes in UW had made 3 of 11 field goals, while the Seahawks had connected on 5 of 19 in taking a 12-10 lead.
The Badgers did not make their fourth field goal until sophomore center Greg Stiemsma hit a jumper to make it 12-12 with 6:16 left in the first half.
The normally sure-handed Badgers committed 10 turnovers in the first half and made 6 of 21 shots (29 percent). UNCW was similarly anemic: 7-for-27 (26 percent) with six turnovers.
Wisconsin missed its first four shots of the second half to sink its shooting percentage to 24, and UNCW senior guard John Goldsberry's 3-pointer from the right wing gave the Seahawks a 21-16 edge with 17:04 left in the game.
The Badgers made just 4 of 14 (29 percent) second-half field goals before shooting the lights out to win.
Freshman guard Joe Krabbenhoft's triple drew UW within 21-19 and sophomore guard Michael Flowers made a long 2 as the shot clock expired to make it 24-21 UNCW.
The Seahawks, though, out-scored the Badgers 6-2 over a 4:06-span, taking a 30-23 lead on senior forward Mitch Laue's put back with 11:13 left.
But UNCW missed its next three shots and lost an opportunity to potentially put the Badgers away.