Taylor overcomes difficult shooting with clutch play in final minutes
The way Jacob Pullen was carving up the Wisconsin defense all night, you figured he would have a big hand in deciding the game. Instead, it was Jordan Taylor's right hand that sealed Kansas State's fate.
After making two clutch free throws to give the Badgers a three-point lead, Taylor blocked Pullen's potential game-tying 3-point attempt with two seconds left to send No. 4 Wisconsin (25-8) to a hard-fought 70-65 win over No. 5 Kansas State (23-11) and a berth in the Sweet 16.
Taylor had no answer for Pullen throughout the rest of the game, as the Kansas State senior erupted for a tournament-high 38 points. The Badgers may have only stopped Pullen a couple times the whole night, but the two times they did in the final minute were monumental. Prior to Taylor's block, Wisconsin was clinging to a 64-63 lead when Tim Jarmusz poked the ball loose from behind as Pullen barreled down the court on a 1-on-1 fast break, seemingly headed toward a go-ahead bucket. Mike Bruesewitz recovered the ball and got it to Jon Leuer, whom Kansas State had to foul with 16 seconds left.
Following the two made free throws, Pullen had a chance to tie the game when Taylor fouled him on a 3-point attempt. But he could only convert on two of the three freebies. Kansas State finished 15-of-22 (68.2%) from the charity stripe, while Wisconsin hit 19-of-23 (82.6%).
The block was not Taylor's only impressive defensive play. Tied 61-61 with two minutes remaining, Taylor stepped up his pressure on Pullen, but found himself switched onto Curtis Kelly in the post. Taylor proceeded to steal Pullen's entry pass, push the ball ahead and find Bruesewitz open on the wing, where the ginger assassin drilled a 3-pointer to give Wisconsin the lead for good.
However, the game began ominously for UW when Keaton Nankivil received an elbow to the eye socket in the opening minutes leading to a bloody face. At the 12-minute mark, another inadvertent K-State elbow split open the top of Leuer's head, requiring three rushed stitches.
Leuer missed the next five minutes while being attended to in the locker room while Wisconsin was in the middle of a 4:27 scoreless stretch.
With Leuer and Nankivil seated together on the bench, Kansas State's pressure appeared to be taking a toll. The Wildcats forced the Badgers to pick up their dribbles prematurely too many times, which played right into Kansas State's game plan.those Battered like a 'Sconnie fish fry.
Yet behind the stellar play of Bruesewitz and Josh Gasser, Wisconsin showed that it would not be out-toughed, even in the face of Kansas State's intimidating defense. Despite being battered like a 'Sconnie fish fry, the Badgers had eight players in the scoring column by halftime. Jarmusz canned two treys and UW led 36-30 at the break.
Only Pullen and Kelly scored field goals for the Wildcats in the first half. Pullen had 17 points in the first half and shot 13-of-22 overall, including 6-of-8 on 3-pointers.
More than halfway through the second stanza, however, Wisconsin's outlook was looking sour. Kansas State opened the half on a 25-13 run to build a six-point lead of its own. The Wildcats began to dominate the boards as Nankivil and Leuer descended into foul trouble, out-collecting Wisconsin by a count of 22-14 after halftime. Six of the rebounds came on the offensive end.
That is when Bruesewitz came to the rescue on the defensive end by grabbing big rebounds and loose balls. It is impossible to overstate the impact Bruesewitz has had on the team in the tournament thus far with his energy and versatility. Bruesewitz finished with 11 points and six rebounds.
Gasser, who also scored 11, and Leuer both led UW with seven rebounds. Kelly and Jamar Samuels paced Kansas State with nine apiece.
Bo Ryan's crunch time group of Taylor, Leuer, Bruesewitz, Jarmusz and Gasser was the most effective of the night. Ryan should also receive credit for how he handled Leuer after the senior forward picked up his fourth foul with 3:40 still on the clock. Wisconsin was able to keep Leuer in until after he drew a foul and hit two free throws to break a 59-59 tie, but then pulled an offense for defense switch on the next possession.
Leuer led Wisconsin with 19 points.
Taylor added 12 points, but shooting-wise, it may have been his worst performance of the year. The junior made only 2-of-16 shots, many of which were not even close or ill-advised. Whether the season has worn him Taylor down or he is feeling a profound pressure to score in order to help his team, these performances are occurring more frequently it seems. Kansas State's defense had plenty to do with it on this night as well.
As Taylor reiterated in his post-game interview,"Good thing it's a team sport because [Pullen] was the best player on the floor all day long. I am just happy we got the win."
Taylor's teammates held the line Saturday night and the better team prevailed. Wisconsin will face off against No. 8 Butler, who toppled top-seeded Pittsburgh earlier in the day, on Thursday.