Despite shooting 40 percent from the floor, their lowest percentage since losing to Missouri State, and a paltry 3-for-17 from behind the arc, Wisconsin avoided a disastrous upset with a 69-64 nail biter against the Boilermakers.
With Wisconsin trailing at halftime for only the 16th time in 91 home games under Bo Ryan, the Badgers (18-1, 4-0 Big Ten) leading scorers were in a shooting slump. Kammron Taylor was only two of seven shooting and Alando Tucker, the Big Ten's second leading scorer, only had chipped in with six points.
"We've had guys step up when Kam and I struggle," senior Alando Tucker said. "It has proven us to be a threat."
On of those guys who gave Wisconsin a badly needed offensive boost was fellow senior Jason Chappell.
After passing up the open shot repeatedly throughout the first half, Chappell found his shooting confidence, possibly with a helpful reminder from Bo Ryan, scoring a season-high 13 points, including knocking down two three pointers in the second half. With Purdue head coach Matt Painter focusing his attention on Taylor and Tucker, his gamble backfired of leaving the big man open on the perimeter.
"I felt we had to take a couple risks in our game plan if we were going to beat Wisconsin on their home floor," Painter said. "One of those risks was not guarding a couple people; just flat out leaving them open. Jason Chappell stepped up and made two huge threes, which was a huge turning point in the game.
"I wanted to give all our attention to Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor," Painter added. "When you play Wisconsin, you have to let other guys step up and beat you and they did."
Even with Chappell's unexpected contributions, the Badgers couldn't break away from Purdue (13-6, 2-3 Big Ten). Thanks to a combined 34 points from senior Carl Landry (16) and a game-high 18 from sophomore Gordon Watt, Purdue held a two-point lead with 14 minutes remaining.
After Chappell's second three gave the Badgers a one-point lead, junior Michael Flowers turned up the heat on the Boilermaker defense.
Using the space given to him by his defenders, Flowers found his way into the lane to score eight of the Badgers next 11 points to give Wisconsin an eight-point lead. Overall, Flowers scored a team-high 15 points and went to the line four times, all of which came as a result of him penetrating to the basket.
"I have got a lot of respect for Flowers," Painter said. "I don't know if he'll get his game to the level of Kam Taylor, but Flowers has made a lot of improvements. He was somebody we weren't going to let shoot. He did a great job of using his dribble and attacking us. We had a tough time containing that and with that came a lot of fouls."
"He'll penetrate and people think he won't be going to the rim," Ryan added. "He sets people up and has that little extra burst that gets him into those positions to use the glass. Michael has gotten pretty good at that."
Arguably the most impressive statistic from tonight's game was how badly Tucker and Taylor struggled shooting. Tucker shot 4-for-15 from the floor and finished with 14 points; the fourth straight game the All-American candidate has been held under 20 points.
Without his seven makes from the free throw line, Taylor's stat line would have been a disaster. Making only three of 11 shots against Purdue, Taylor is shooting 26 percent (6-for-23) in his last two games. Even more surprising is the struggles in Taylor's perimeter game. Entering the game shooting a career-best 46 percent from three-point distance, Taylor is now one for his last 12 from the perimeter, including going 0-for-6 tonight.
"[Kam is] one of the best three point shooters around and [his shots] weren't forced tonight," Ryan said. "They just didn't go down for him."
Although taking solace in the fact that pulling out a gritty win when their two best players can't buy a bucket is somewhat of a relief, the Badgers' weakness of failing to close out games is becoming prevalent over the course of the past week. After narrowly blowing a double digit lead against Ohio State and nearly failing to shut out the Wildcats, the Badgers, up 12 with three minutes to go, let Purdue creep back within six in the game's final minute.
With tough road games at Illinois, Iowa and Indiana coming up on the schedule, the Badgers realize that if they don't reverse this nerve-racking trend, their win streak, along with their highest national ranking in school history, could come to a screeching halt.
"We have been playing poorly closing out games, especially at home," Tucker said. "We have to stay on the attack. You only have so long to win by surviving. We have to secure our lead. A couple games down the stretch, we may end up on the other side."