Well, that was close. A game that looked like a snoozer early on developed into a narrow escape for the Badgers (9-2), who eked out a 60-54 win over their instate rival UW-Milwaukee Panthers (8-3) in U.S. Cellular Arena.
Leading 31-20 at halftime, it looked like the Badgers would coast to another non-conference win after they held the Panthers to just 30.8% shooting in the first half. But the Panthers surged after halftime, and gave Wisconsin all it could handle before the Badgers made a few key shots to deny Milwaukee what would have been just its second win in the all-time series.
The Panthers lead just once in the game, off a two-point basket from Ryan Allen to open up the scoring, but came back to tie the game up at 48-48 with just over five minutes left to play. The Panthers went on a 16-1 run before the Badgers woke back up and made some key shots to avert a near-disaster. With under five minutes left to play Jared Berggren put up a three point shot as the shot clock expired and put the Badgers ahead 51-48, stopping at least some of Milwaukee's momentum. After the teams traded a few scores, senior point guard Jordan Taylor made a deep three-pointer with 0:41 seconds left to make it a two-possession game again, and put the last nail in Milwaukee's coffin.
But where did the Badgers' second-half struggles come from? For starters, their shooting percentage fell from 44.4% to 36.8% after the intermission, while Milwaukee's improved to 44.8%. However, the Panthers were held back by a bad night from the charity stripe. As a team Milwaukee went 7-of-17 on free throws, while the Badgers made the most of their chances by making 16-of-20 free throw attempts.
Statistically, junior forward Ryan Evans had a great night. Evans posted 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor and 6-of-7 free throws. The Arizona native also recorded two blocks and pulled down eight rebounds. Berggren lead the Badgers in scoring with 17 points, and had nine rebounds as well. As a team, the Badgers just barely out-rebounded the Panthers, pulling down 34 total boards to Milwaukee's 32. Senior point guard Jordan Taylor ended the night with 14 points and three assists, but had an uncharacteristic three turnovers as well.
In short, the Badgers survived a close game, and left U.S. Cellular Arena with their first true road win of the season. The Panthers showed they wouldn't be an easy out, and looked like a team that could contend in the Horizon League this year. Time will tell how impressive or unimpressive this win will look when March rolls around, but for now the Badgers will head back home on I-94 and get ready to host Savannah State Thursday night at the Kohl Center.
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