A 3-pointer by Kammron Taylor cut the Bison lead to four with just under a minute to play, but the two things keeping North Dakota State on top down the stretch—point guard Ben Woodside and missed field goals by Wisconsin—helped cement the Badgers' first home loss this season and just the third non-conference loss at the Kohl Center during coach Bo Ryan's five-year tenure at UW.
Following the 3, Taylor sent Woodside to the line, where he was 11-for-13 on his way to a game-high 24 points. After Woodside connected on both free throws, Taylor, Alando Tucker and Ray Nixon all missed from beyond the arc on the same possession as UW failed to take advantage of two offensive rebounds.
After Nixon's miss, the ball skirted loose just above the free-throw line and bodies crashed to the floor desperately seeking to secure it. Just when the Badgers appeared to have it, Woodside—who was laying on the floor—swiped it clean off the deck and shoveled it ahead to a teammate. The entire sequence was indicative of Wisconsin's frustrations all game long.
The Badgers' inability to convert off the offensive glass, from the 3-point line, inside the paint or anywhere else culminated in an abysmal 22 percent (16-of-72) shooting day.
"We had some good shots," Tucker said. "You can't get any more open than that. You've got to knock them down."
The Bison shot 50 percent from the field, but just 13 of 24 (54 percent) from the charity stripe. Subtract Woodside's clutch free-throw shooting, and NDSU was 2 of 11 at the line.
North Dakota State led by as many as 18 with 7:10 remaining in the game, but 24 turnovers and 16 second-half Bison fouls allowed Wisconsin to hang around late with the nation's youngest team.
Over the next 2:28 the Badgers managed to trim the NDSU advantage by 10, climbing to within 49-41 on a Joe Krabbenhoft free throw. Despite a reawakened crowd and interior penetration over the remaining few minutes, the Badgers predominantly trailed by seven-to-nine points until Taylor's 3 briefly brought them within four.
The game started off at a slow pace offensively as Wisconsin opened up an 11-4 lead on a Krabbenhoft 3 with 11:52 remaining in the first half. Following that shot, however, the Badgers went 7:41 without a field goal as NDSU closed the half on a methodical 26-5 run. Krabbenhoft, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench, was the only Badger to connect on a field goal in the last 15:18 of the first half.
NDSU led 30-16 at halftime with Wisconsin going just 5-for-29 in the half. A 3 from the top of the key by Nixon sparked the Badgers' early in the second half, cutting the lead to nine before the Bison went on a 14-5 run to eventually open their 18-point lead.
Despite pulling down 22 offensive rebounds, Wisconsin was beaten on the glass 46-39 and was out-scored in the paint 28-18.
Forward Andre Smith was impressive on the low block for the Bison, scoring 16 points and collecting 13 rebounds before fouling out with 2:32 remaining.
Bison coach Tim Miles credited his players and assistants for executing on the ways he believed the Badgers could be defeated. He acknowledged that it was helpful to have Saul Phillips—who spent three years as Bo Ryan's director of basketball operations at UW—on his staff.
The Bison opted to focus their defensive energy on stopping Alando Tucker—often double teaming him—and hedging hard on screens for Kammron Taylor. The tactic seemed to work, as Tucker and Taylor combined to shoot an abysmal 8 of 42 from the field. Tucker found his stroke at the free-throw line, making 7 of 9, but was just 2-for-18 from the field for 11 points. Taylor led all Badgers with 19 points, on 6 of 24 shooting.
Following the game, Tucker said he had never been part of that type of struggle.
"You look at our field goals, this has to be the worst shooting performance of a team I've ever been on," Tucker said.
The victory carried a great deal of significance for Miles and the Bison, who are currently a transitional Division I school and have traveled all over the country to play games they think can help their program develop. A win in the notoriously hostile Kohl Center over a ranked opponent certainly left NDSU fired up.
Miles attributed his team's slow start to playing on tired legs following a recent buzzer-beating loss at Utah Valley State. He said the team had not practiced and needed some time to get going after scoring just two points in the first seven minutes of play.
"Today was our day," Miles said. "I'm proud of the kids. They battled. They weren't intimidated. This wasn't an easy environment. I think that Wisconsin's record showed that this isn't an easy thing to do. For an upstart like us to do it, I'm just so proud of our kids."
Wisconsin played without two regulars in its rotation—sophomore Greg Stiemsma (leave of absence, medical) and freshman Marcus Landry (academically ineligible). The two players watched the game from the Badger bench Saturday and it remains unclear when or if they will return to play.
With a shortened cast, freshman walk-on Kevin Gullickson saw time in the first half along with Tanner Bronson. Bronson also played the final 15 seconds of the game after Taylor fouled out, leaving the offense without its quarterback for its final three possessions, which resulted in zero points.
Despite an altered practice schedule following a late televised game at Ohio State on Wednesday and the limited bench, Ryan simply credited the loss to his players' inability to hit shots. He did not say definitively whether anything could account for their struggles but did say that some players might have got a little excited or tight around the rim and may have been too quick on their putbacks.
"First of all, when's the last time we got 72 shots?" Ryan said. "You have to do other things to make sure you get a chance. You've got to get on the offensive board and rebound them when things aren't going in—and we did. And you've got to get the other team to turn it over, and we did.
"You're supposed to have a chance then and we had a chance."
Tucker agreed that some of what happened might be mental, as the missed shots and frustrations began to fester in players' minds. Dealing with free-throw struggles all season, Tucker knows about the mental rhythm of shooting and how it can play out much different in a game than it does on the practice floor.
"When you start missing the easy ones it starts to wear on you," Tucker said. "We weren't taking it possession by possession. We were trying to get it all back in like one or two possessions."
Ultimately, UW's attempt at a comeback ended just a few possessions short.