Down by eight points with 2:54 remaining, it looked as if Delaware State might resort to a particular comeback strategy – hack-a-Tuck. But Alando Tucker calmly stepped up to the line, swiftly knocked down a pair of free throws and came back two plays later to add a hanging baseline dunk as his exclamation point on a 64-52 Badger victory at the Kohl Center on Tuesday.
Tucker scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the final ten minutes – including a run in which he scored 10 consecutive UW points to put the Badgers up 54-40 with 5:48 to play.
"At the point in time I knew we needed it," Tucker said. "You can't let a team like that stick around.
"That's what they were trying to do the whole game is stay in there until the end."
The Hornets gave UW a battle in the first half by slowing the game down and keeping it close with hot jump shooting – hitting 64.7 percent of their first half field goals. Roy Bright and Jahsha Bluntt led the way with 18 points each for a Delaware State team that put many guards on the floor and forced Wisconsin to go small in its lineup.
"That's something we prepared for," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "We went smaller because we could guard out on the floor."
That rotation did not last long, but Wisconsin did well to adjust in general to what the Hornets threw at them – including an offense that held the ball at mid-court until the shot clock ran below 20 seconds. That seemed to agitate the crowd, but did little to fluster the Badgers.
And despite the hot shooting before halftime, UW still took a 33-27 lead into the locker room after ending the half on a 12-5 run.
"This is a great game because they hit jump shot after jump shot," Ryan said. "So you just play through it. It's basketball. Anybody that's played knows what kind of game that was.
"You just keep playing. If they're gonna hit those for 40 minutes, you're on the right-hand side."
After halftime things really started rolling for Wisconsin. UW beat the Hornets on the glass 17-7 in the second half, and those hot hands for Delaware State cooled off. The Hornets managed just six field goals after the break, shooting 30 percent for the half.
Wisconsin also protected the ball, as the team finished with just six turnovers. A 9-0 UW run over 4:05 in particular opened up the game to 48-35. And the Badgers dominance in the paint – outscoring Delaware State there 24-6 in the second half – gave the Hornets all kinds of fits.
Butch showed a propensity to drive the ball to the lane, but also to finish plays he has sometimes fallen short on in the past. Three times he scored by following up his own miss, and looked as strong down the stretch as he did in the game's opening minutes.
Butch said that the coaching staff has been on the big men about bringing the ball to the hole and being more aggressive – and that he has practiced his footwork to take action accordingly.
"When coach tells you everyday at practice to keep on doing it, you do it," Butch said.
But it was Tucker who stole the show, as usual. The Big Ten preseason player of the year came alive when his team most needed him. And in a game in which Wisconsin was threatened down the stretch for the first time this season – albeit with a cushion of a lead – Tucker made sure it would get no closer than that.
"It's nice to be in a close game like this, because you get to see guys like Tuck take over a basketball game," Butch said.
As Wisconsin heads down to South Padre Island to take on Missouri State on Friday and the winner of Oklahoma State/Auburn on Saturday, games such as Tuesday's will help them. Butch said that Delaware State provided more of a challenge, and Tucker loves to get up for them.
"These games right here define a team over the course of a season," he said.