Playing in a building where they had won twice in 42 years and facing its biggest test without its biggest inside presence, No.16 Wisconsin did everything it could to exercise its Mackey Arena demons, having No.10 Purdue on the ropes twice late in the second half.
When it came to crunch time, the Badgers couldn't stop E'Twuan Moore and couldn't get their crunch-time player - senior Trevon Hughes - to drop not one, but two game-winning attempts, a series of events that spelled out a 60-57 loss in front of a sellout crowd of 14,123.
"It's especially frustrating tonight because I felt like we (had them) a couple time where we wanted them," said junior Keaton Nankivil, who led all scores with 25. "We had them with 10 minutes left, with a couple minutes left and both cases, I thought we had some good stuff going. They made plays down the stretch and we struggled a couple times."
Wisconsin (16-5, 6-3 Big Ten) looked to be headed toward another ‘what-if' defeat midway through the second half when the Badgers saw a 38-31 lead with 13:01 remaining evaporate over a six-minute span, as Purdue (17-3, 5-3) carved out a 17-2 run with just over seven minutes left.
But on a night where Nankivil simply couldn't miss, the Badgers clawed back into the fight. Tying the school record with seven three-pointers and a career-high in points, Nankivil, after stuffing senior Chris Kramer, buried a three-pointer from the top of the key with 42 seconds left to put the Badgers up 57-56.
"We just kept fighting back and doing what we had to do up until the very end," Nankivil said.
Then came the two part ending for Wisconsin. Part one came compliments of Moore, who drove past guard Jordan Taylor off a screen and pulled up in the lane to deliver a floater over Nankivil with 25.2 seconds left, giving Purdue a 58-57 lead.
"We ran that play four or five times before that," Moore said. "It was just a pick and roll … and I just had to read the defense. It just so happened that … I made the shot."
The second part was a struggling Hughes having two looks at making the Badgers a winner. His first attempt was a three-pointer from the left elbow that went awry, but bounced off a Purdue player and out of bounds. Although admitting to getting hit on the elbow, Hughes, who finished the game 0-of-5 from three-point range, knew no call was coming.
"I should have been more aggressive and attack the first time," Hughes said.
With six seconds remaining, Hughes got another chance to attack the rim. Driving the lane until he ran into three Purdue defenders, Hughes' shot was too strong, bouncing off the glass and the front rim before falling into the hands of junior JaJuan Johnson.
After Johnson (14 points) made two free throws, Wisconsin's desperation heave with one second left was picked off by Kramer, moving the Boilermakers a half game behind the Badgers in the standings.
"We gave ourselves an opportunity to steal one on the road and we didn't walk away with us," said Hughes. "It's hard missing the next shot … I promise you next time I am in that predicament, I will (make it)."
Hughes finished 3-of-11 from the field and a glaring 3-of-8 from the free throw line, but combined with Taylor for nine assists and two turnovers.
"We were still in position to get it on the left-hand side, and that's what you try to do, especially in a place like this" said UW coach Bo Ryan, as Wisconsin finished with nine turnovers. "You want a shot at it. You want a chance on that last possession."
Added Hughes: "That's where I thrive, at the free throw line. I am normally not like that …"
Nankivil was the key figure in the first-half equation. Not only did the junior hit three three-pointers to lead all scores with 11, he grabbed six rebounds, including four on the offensive end, and a pair of steals.
Those extra possessions allowed the Badgers to dictate the tempo and keep the Boilermakers out of rhythm, as Purdue went 5:27 without a made field goal late in the first half.
Wisconsin's stingy defense continued into the second half, holding Purdue without a basket until the 14:15 mark. During that stretch, Wisconsin watched the crowd turn on the officials after Purdue was whistled for seven team fouls in the first seven minutes, allowing the Badgers to build that 38-31 lead.
The Badgers only made six field goals the rest of the game, but were within an arm's reach until the very end.
"We put ourselves in a very good position," senior Jason Bohannon said. "We kept fighting through everything that they did. Offensively, they went on a little spurt there, but we got back."
The last time these two teams played (a 73-66 UW victory) Wisconsin got 57 points on 16-of-24 shooting from guards Bohannon, Hughes and Taylor. This time, that trio shot 8-of-28 for 25 points.
Thanks in large part to Jon Leuer's 10 rebounds, Wisconsin won a 39-32 rebounding battle when these two teams met 19 days ago. With Leuer out, junior Robbie Hummel was able to grab 13 rebounds to help Purdue out muscle Wisconsin 37-25 on the glass, including turning 11 offensive rebounds into 12 points (compared to only three for Wisconsin).
"It just came down to one play," said Hummel (12 points), who shot a combined 7-of-24 in two games against Wisconsin. "We thought we had to steal possessions, and that's rebounding. Tonight, I think we really had an emphasis on that and it probably won the game for us."