Despite sloppy play on offense, the Badgers turned up the defensive intensity in the first half. Wisconsin (24-8) held the Southern Conference champion Wofford Terriers to just 28 percent shooting from the field while holding them to just one point during a seven and a half minute stretch to seize early control of the game.
"We knew what they (Wofford) were going to try to do and they did it for the most part," said Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, who won his 600th career game as a head coach.
Despite having an enormous height advantage inside, Wisconsin couldn't capitalize, as they missed several easy layups en route to just a 34.5 percent shooting performance in the first half as they missed 29 of its 39 field goal attempts. The only Badger that was effective in the first half was guard Trevon Hughes, who connected on four of his six shots to lead Wisconsin with 14 points at the break.
"I was able to get in the paint a lot more in the first half," Hughes said.
Wofford (26-9), the third-smallest school in Division I with just 1,450 students, would not go down quietly as they came out of the locker room with a vengeance. The Terriers went on a 10-2 run and were able to pull even at 33 with a Jamar Diggs jumper.
Wofford did the unthinkable as they took a 36-35 lead with just under 15 minutes remaining when guard Junior Salters connected on an uncontested three which energized the partisan crowd of nearly 8,000.
"They were finally able to hit some outside shots in the second half and it was going to be a toe-to-toe, possession game," Ryan said.
The two teams traded buckets for much of the second half and as the game remained close, one could feel the confidence in the team from the small school building.
"It became a possession by possession game, and their guys are pretty used to that," Ryan said.
With just over two minutes remaining and Wofford holding a 48-47 lead, point guard Cameron Rundles went to the free throw line with a one-and-one. Rundles missed the shot and Hughes made him pay on the other end, as he grabbed a loose ball and scored to give Wisconsin a 49-48 advantage. After a Tim Johnson free throw that tied the game, the Badgers used an offensive rebound to set up one final possession.
"I looked to get in the paint and draw some guys over to me," Hughes, who finished with 19 points said of the Badgers final field goal.
Hughes indeed drove and found Leuer open in the corner and he connected on an 18-foot jumper to put the Badgers up 51-49.
"I kind of found a soft spot and Trevon made a great play and found me," Leuer said.
With one final chance, Wofford guard Cameron Rundles drove left but lost the ball out of bounds with 4.9 seconds remaining. Leuer connected on a pair of free throws to put the game on ice for the Badgers as they will survive until at least Sunday, when they take on the Cornell Big Red from the Ivy League who defeated the Temple Owls, 78-65.