Shooting droughts leaves UW out in cold

Wisconsin watches Purdue shoot 59.5 percent from the field and come on strong to finish the game and win at the Kohl Center, a concept the Badgers have failed to grasp as prolonged scoring droughts have extended Wisconsin's losing streak to five games.

MADISON — It's not how you start, but how you finish.

Just because that bit of sports phrase is overused doesn't mean it's not true.

The University of Wisconsin men's basketball team is discovering that the hard way – and this is as hard as it gets for a program that's not used to long losing stretches like this one.

Desperate for victory during a four-game losing slide, the Badgers came out firing Tuesday against No. 16-ranked Purdue, not just at the start of the game, but right after halftime. Wisconsin did well to get its sellout Kohl Center crowd jacked up right from the start.

But both halves collapsed in similar fashion for UW, which just didn't have enough for its newest nemesis in a 64-63 loss to the Boilermakers.

Wisconsin took an early 12-7 lead, but resilient Purdue calmly took the lead back midway through the first half. That's when the unraveling began, slowly but surely.

UW forward Jon Leuer's layup with 7:28 left in the first half cut Purdue's lead to 24-21. Wisconsin's next score from the field was a Trevon Hughes three-pointer … with 43 seconds left in the half, which made it 34-28. There's a 6:45 drought, during which the Boilermakers assumed a 10-4 run.

Then when Badgers forward Keaton Nankivil capped his career night with his fifth three-pointer of the game – and sixth of his career – with 4:46 left, that gave UW a 56-51 lead. However, Wisconsin didn't hit another field goal until 22 seconds remaining (a Jordan Taylor layup); a 4:24 drought that saw Purdue undertake an 11-2 run.

Put it all together, and that's two stretches of more than 11 combined minutes of 0-for-10 shooting and a 21-6 run for the Boilermakers.

"They played solid "D", but we got our looks," Hughes said. "It just wasn't falling for us … they hit big shots down the stretch, and we go ten minutes without getting something on the scoreboard, it's frustrating."

It's even more magnified when those two runs come right before the half, and the end of the game, the times of the game when it really counts.

"It's like we're always right there," Hughes said, "but we just can't end up on the left-hand side."

While Wisconsin struggled to get any shot to fall, Purdue responded beautifully in the final three minutes. Back-to-back-to-back three-pointers by Keaton Grant, Chris Kramer, and Robbie Hummel – the last of which gave Purdue the lead for good with 1:01 remaining – proved to be the dagger for Wisconsin.

"We have competitive guys that want to win," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "Our guys made a couple more plays down the stretch, and that's how you have to pull out a victory."

Purdue shot astonishingly well (59.5 percent), but the Badgers weren't so bad themselves from behind the three-point line, hitting 11 of 18 shots.

Most of that is attributed to its newest long-range shooting specialist. Nankivil, a sophomore forward who came into Tuesday just 1-of-4 from three-point land, hit all five shots he attempted from that territory, and his career night of 21 points single-handedly kept Wisconsin in the game until the very end.

Notably, Nankivil's hot hand wasn't involved in any shots during those two long periods of cold shooting.

"(I felt it) after the first (three-pointer), because for me, a lot of times, if I make one, it's lucky," Nankivil said. "But after losing one game and now five in a row, I think that's probably the least important thing. We just've got to figure out a way to get back on track."

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