After 40 minutes on Friday, Tucker will probably hear the name ‘Corpus Christi' in his sleep.
Watching the Islanders build an 18-point lead in the first half in front of their eyes, the Badgers were able to slowly chip away at a seemingly insurmountable lead, using a combined 47 points from Tucker and fellow senior Kammron Taylor to avoid a disastrous opening round upset, beating Texas A&M Corpus Christi 76-63.
To say Wisconsin (30-5) came out of the starting gates slow would be a vast understatement. TAMU-CC (26-7) started off on a 10-0 run and never looked back in the first half, pushing their lead to as big as 25-7 and got the crowd squarely behind the underdogs. While the Islanders were connecting on their shot attempts, shooting as high as 53 percent in the game's first 20 minutes, the Badgers started 3-for-24 (12.5 percent), committed sloppy turnovers and could generate no rhythm on either end of the floor.
"They were doing some good things on offense and we weren't clicking as a unit," Tucker said. "I asked someone if they would take the lids off the basket."
But just when things started to look the bleakest for the Badgers, they awoke from their startling slumber.
Just like the Big Ten Championship game when he didn't score until 3:40 left in the first half, Tucker connected on his first bucket with 3:15 remaining in the opening half. From there, Tucker did what he does best, put the Badgers on his back and take control. Tucker scored Wisconsin's next eight points, including a thunderous dunk to end the first half with Wisconsin down only 27-19.
Looking back, the steal by Kammron Taylor and the ensuing dunk was the igniting point that charged up Wisconsin's offense.
"To end the first half, the way we were playing, on a steal and a dunk by Tuck, it lifted the team up," Taylor said. "We wouldn't have played any worse than we did in the first half. We just went into the locker room and stuck together."
Much like the first round tournament game three years ago in Milwaukee where Wisconsin dug itself an early hole against Richmond, Wisconsin slowly began to climb out of the precipice. Doing a little damage on the scoreboard on each possession, Wisconsin slowly cut the lead to five based on a defensive lockdown and using a better shot selection.
"Coach Ryan said that we weren't going to get 10 points back on one possession," Tucker said. "[Today] was a lot like the Richmond game three years ago. We grinded it back possession by possession and showed great team unity."
That unity was put in great question, however, when Tucker was saddled with his third foul and forced to take a seat with 10:59 left in the game. With Wisconsin still looking up hill at the Islanders, it was Taylor's turn to show up.
With Tucker on the bench, Taylor put on his own personal shooting clinic. His first bucket of the game – a three-point make from the corner – brought Wisconsin within three for the first time since the opening minutes. From there, Taylor did everything on his own, hitting a three to tie the game and a 16-foot jumper to give Wisconsin the lead for good.
In a span of just over two minutes, Taylor scored 11 straight Wisconsin points and scored all of his game-high 24 points in the second half, single-handedly giving his team control of the contest.
"It was one of those rare moments," Taylor said. "I started to hit my first shot of the game and it just felt good from there. Tuck was basically the only one scoring for us and we needed someone else to step up."
"I could tell his confidence rose at that point and I understood that because he's a senior," Tucker added. "Seniors play like this at this time."
Without the play of Wisconsin's two seniors, the Badgers would have succumbed to one of the biggest upsets, not just in school history, but in NCAA Tournament history, as a lost would have been only the fifth time in history that a number two seed lost in the first round of the national tournament.
Instead, Wisconsin scored 57 points after halftime, their highest output for any half this season, after scoring a season-low 19 points in the first half. More importantly, the Badgers are one of 32 teams still with a shot to win the national title.
"I am just glad that when they set this game up, they did it in halves," UW coach Bo Ryan joked. "They won the first 15 pretty handily and we won the rest. How many teams could withstand that and still come back and do what our guys did? It's nice to be on this end, it just took awhile."
Ryan's counterpart, TAMU-CC head coach Ronnie Arrow, shared a similar viewpoint but not the same outcome.
"I wish the game would have been over at halftime," Arrow said. "They came really out in the second half and as good as we played defensively in the first half, we gave up 57 points in the second half. You just can't let up against a team like that. When you get them down, you have to go for the jugular and we didn't finish that."
With the win, their eighth against a lower-seeded team in the NCAA tournament under Bo Ryan, Wisconsin will face No.7 UNLV from the Mountain West Conference on Sunday, after the Running Rebels beat No.10 Georgia Tech 67-63. The win also gives the Badgers their 30th victory of the season, making them only the 13th team in conference history to reach that mark.
"The players earned those 30 and there weren't too many easy ones in there," Ryan said. "They have committed to playing defense and playing their fannies of. We beat some good teams in their, too. I am happy for those players because they've earned it."
Brian Butch Update After practicing with the team the past two days, junior Brian Butch was cleared physically to play in Wisconsin's first round contest. Although sitting without his warm up pants on for the majority of the game, Ryan did not utilize Butch against TAMU-CC and wouldn't speculate if the center, recovering from a dislocated elbow, would play on Sunday.
"We'll have to see," Ryan said. "All I know is that he'll be the freshest guy on the court come Sunday."