Wisconsin swung the ball outside the perimeter to Alando Tucker, who without hesitating fired a deep 3-pointer in front of the Badger bench with 2:15 remaining in overtime to go up by six on route to an 82-79 UW victory at the Kohl Center.
Tucker made sure he put enough muscle into it, and confidently strutted up the sideline into a timeout. Winthrop was never able to fully recover.
"I was going to hit the shot," Tucker said. "In those clutch times I feel I can hit almost anything."
The No. 11 Badgers (8-1) maintained a two-possession lead until a Winthrop dunk at the buzzer. UW scored on all but its last of nine overtime possessions, and the scorching shooting of the Eagles cooled just enough to maintain control.
A blitz of long-range fires from beyond the arc allowed Winthrop (6-3) to climb back in the game down the stretch. UW led by as much as 14 with 9:20 left in the second half, but Winthrop cut the lead to five on a Michael Jenkins 3-pointer with 5:33 remaining and eventually took its first lead of the second half with just 54 seconds left on another deep Jenkins 3 over Tucker.
That put the Eagles up 65-63 before Wisconsin collected three offensive rebounds in a long possession on the other end.
Michael Flowers, who scored a career-high 21 points, caught a rebound in the paint that sailed over the arm of Brian Butch. Flowers then fought through multiple defenders in a move towards the bench and banked in a left-handed shot outside the block while fading away with 11 seconds remaining.
"I seen that Tuck was in position to shoot the ball so I went to get on the weak side and just get in the best position to get the rebound," Flowers said. "Either me or one of my teammates was going to get the ball and it turned out I got it and I put it back in."
From there, Torrell Martin – who led all scorers with 31 points on 11-for-18 shooting and 7 of 11 from 3-point range – got one last clean look at the hoop from beyond the top of the key. To the collective gasp of the entire student section facing him, Martin fell just shy as the attempt bounced off the front of the rim.
"It was a beautifully designed play, something we work on a lot," Martin said. "I had a great shot, and I just didn't knock the shot down. It was about as open as I could get."
Both teams attempted 25 3-pointers on the evening, but it was Winthrop who rode them as far as the mostly deep and many times off-balance shots would carry it. The Eagles buried 15 (60 percent) from long-range to just six by the Badgers. That performance set a Kohl Center team record and is the most ever allowed by UW in school history.
Despite the barrage, Wisconsin was able to maintain thanks to a strong presence on the glass. The Badgers outrebounded Winthrop 40-18 and scored 19 second-chance points to just six by the Eagles. UW also continued its migration to the charity stripe, making 24 of 34 free throws. The Eagles attempted only ten.
"The real key was us getting on the glass," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "And it also helped us get to the free throw line by getting on the glass."
The trio of Tucker, Flowers and Butch combined for 59 of UW's 82 points and shot a combined 20-for-37 (54.1 percent). Butch also grabbed nine rebounds and Flowers dropped five assists to lead all players respectively.
Wisconsin hit just one of its first ten 3-point attempts but led 34-31 at the break. They went on a 12-2 run to open the second half until an unlikely 3-point shot by Martin stopped the bleeding.
Flowers, Tucker and Joe Krabbenhoft all had their troubles guarding Martin, who seemed to make anything no matter what Wisconsin threw at him. Just over five minutes into the first half, Martin ducked under two defenders from NBA 3-point range and hit a launch while falling forward as the shot clock expired to pull the Eagles within ten. His seven 3-pointers on the night tied a Kohl Center record.
"Everything he put up went in," Tucker said. "You just have to fight through that.
"It was like throwing a rock in the ocean. They were falling."
Michael Jenkins and Kyle Moore also shot a combined 8-for-10 from beyond the arc in the Eagles' losing effort.
"For a team to come through and do that, do what they did, and for us to come out with a win…that shows a lot about our team," Tucker said. "We had to find a way to get it done."
Tucker repeatedly referenced the "fresh of breath air" the team got when Martin missed that shot. Tucker said he went to the huddle after regulation and saw a look of confidence in his teammates' eyes. At that point, he said, he knew it was the Badgers' game from then on out.
At the beginning of a very tough two-week stretch for Wisconsin, that fresh of breath air could not have been more welcomed.
"After watching [Martin] put the ball in the hoop all game long and having the ball in his hand with point-something seconds left on the game clock…my heart sank," Flowers said.
"They lived and died by the 3-pointer tonight, and they died by that shot."