It took a while on Wednesday, but Wisconsin found its crumbs.
After Geary Claxton connected on a pair of free throws to draw Penn State within a point at home against the Badgers, Ryan made a substitution. In came reserve Kevin Gullikson to play the five. Alando Tucker moved to the four. Jason Bohannon, Michael Flowers and Kammron Taylor manned the perimeter.
These five found the crumbs. And when Landry relieved Gullikson less than nine minutes later, UW had expanded its lead from one point to 16. The Badgers used that stretch to ultimately dispatch the Nittany Lions, 71-58.
"Yeah that sparked it," Tucker said. "That sparked it up. We actually, we went with a different set – put me at the four. [Ryan] wanted me to work inside more because they were paying so much attention to me on the perimeter."
Bohannon and Flowers gave them something else to worry about. After Gullikson entered and immediately blocked Jamelle Cornley, the two Wisconsin guards reeled off three consecutive from long-range, all in different spots on the court. None were contested, and the Badgers had finally cracked the Penn State zone wide open.
Then Tucker was able to go to work.
"[Ryan] was saying you know, trying to sneak in behind the defense," Tucker said. "And that was one of the things I was trying to do. And it's hard for me to sneak out on the court. I laugh when Coach says that."
But Gullikson was left wide open on the perimeter to do what he pleased. Twice he connected on jumpers and twice he found Tucker in the paint. Tucker put together a string of eight consecutive UW points, including back-to-back moves around the rim in which he converted three-point plays at the free throw line.
The first of the two came as a result of a team effort. Taylor misfired a 3-pointer and Gullikson managed to partially poke the ball toward the sideline where it was kept in play by Penn State and ultimately scooped up by Bohannon. He quickly relayed it to Tucker who laid it in and connected on a subsequent free throw.
Tucker followed that up with a baseline drive and reverse lay-up to give Wisconsin a double-digit lead it would never surrender. The preseason Big Ten player of the year finished his feast with 24 points. Tucker is averaging 22 per contest over his last five, and now stands one point shy of 2,000.
Tucker never left the game in the second half, and the rotation that propelled Wisconsin to victory mostly stayed in tact as well.
"Well, yeah, it can come in bunches," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "And that's why I had that group on the floor at the end of the game.
"I thought we used the clock very well, and Kevin Gullikson was the biggest reason for that, because he just made good decisions with the ball, and he was a very calming effect."
Whatever his effect, the Badgers were sharp on both ends of the floor while he was in. Wisconsin was not playing sluggish prior to that, but they had been unable to shake Penn State through roughly the first three-fourths of the contest.
UW led by as many as seven before haltime, but Penn State climbed within a point twice in the second half. They did so by playing to their strength on the offensive glass, an area they have consistently led the Big Ten in over the last three seasons.
"They rely a lot on offensive rebounds," Tucker said. "In the first half they had eight. It's one of those things that we were trying to limit them to one shot as much as possible. Things weren't going for them. They got out of rhythm. They got out of sync for a while."
Cornley was impressive both in the paint and on long jumpers in scoring his 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting. But he quieted in the final few minutes, and his partner in crime, Geary Claxton, never got a rhythm going. The Nittany Lions' leading scorer finished with 13 points on a 4-of-13 performance from the field.
It was the eighth consecutive loss for Penn State, which dropped into a last place tie with Northwestern in the Big Ten cellar. They had been outshot by a 13 percent clip over six games going into Wednesday, which was just shy of the gap between the two teams in the second half.
Wisconsin made over 58 percent of its second half shots, aided by Flowers' 4-of-5 shooting. He also added six assists to his 12 points and did not turn the ball over once, contributing to a robust two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio for UW.
"For Mike to do what he did and step up to hit those two threes, you know, back-to-back, and then contain Claxton was huge for us," Taylor said.
Flowers was a bit harder on himself.
"I'm kind of disappointed," Flowers sincerely offered to the chuckles of a pair of reporters. "I would have liked to have, you know, 12 points, six assists, seven rebounds, like three or four steals. The steals part didn't really come through on defense."
Perhaps the crumbs can come on defense next time.
The Badger senior will get the chance to top that historic plateau when Iowa travels to the Kohl Center on Saturday. He will be just the second player in Wisconsin history to do so, joining Michael Finley, who ended his career with 2,147 points.
"Yeah, that will be fun," Tucker said. "It will be fun, definitely to get it there in front of the home crowd I've been playing for – for four years. It's going to be exciting. I think all the players are more excited than I was. They were coming to me. I really didn't know how many points I needed, and Joe and Greg were coming to me and were like, ‘Yeah, you need one point, you can get it at home.' So it's fun."
Assuming Wisconsin plays at least eight more games – six regular season contests and a game in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments – Tucker would pass Finley to become the school's leading scorer if he maintains his current average. He would need 18.5 points per game over that stretch.
Worked up a sweat
Gullikson, who was the victim of sweats and coughs following the game, earned his most extensive action since a November win over Auburn. The sophomore finished with four points, three assists, two rebounds, a block and a steal in his 10 minutes off the bench.
"I don't know," Gullikson stuttered as to his coach's comment that he calmed his teammates. "I just, I don't know."
The sweats and the stutters were attributed to a winter cold.