MADISON, Wis. -- Start a new streak. That's what Purdue will have to do after Wisconsin handed the Boilermakers their first loss of the season with a 73-66 win at the Kohl Center Saturday afternoon.
It was another statement win for a team that already beat then-No. 5 Duke at home last month. But this was the more important victory as the Badgers sent a message to the rest of the Big Ten, making it clear they are a serious conference title contender this winter.
"It was a big statement for us to come out strong and play well in the first half and finish strong in the second half too," senior guard Jason Bohannon, who tied a career high with 20 points, said. "It was a really good win for us."
It was a win that Wisconsin had to earn because after it jumped out to an early 8-0 lead, things went sour in a hurry. In the midst of a 16-4 Purdue run, both Trevon Hughes and Keaton Nankivil went to the bench with two fouls and the game easily could have gotten out of hand. But as it has so many times this season, UW's bench stepped up and became the difference in the game.
In Hughes' first half absence, Jordan Taylor handled the point nearly flawlessly and ended up taking over the game late. The sophomore guard scored a team-high and career-high 23 points and did so while being guarded b reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Chris Kramer.
"He's got to bring the ball up for the next 14 minutes in the first half and we're still hanging in there at halftime, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that that was the game right there," Ryan said in reference to Taylor filling in for the foul-plagued Hughes. "Very easily, Purdue, with the way they do things, it could have been a 10-15 point half in their favor."
Taylor took over the scoring, while Mike Bruesewitz provided one of the most important contributions of the game in only six minutes of action. When Ryan put the true freshman forward in the game late in the first half, Purdue held a slight edge in rebounding, but in the next six minutes, UW outrebounded the Boilermakers 10-3 while Bruesewitz pulled down five boards and created an over-the-back foul on JaJuan Johnson with a great box out. And he so while holding Johnson scoreless over that stretch.
"Energy, his court awareness. He's going to be a good player. He is a good player," Ryan said.
Wisconsin turned a one-point deficit into a five-point lead while Bruesewitz was in the game, but Purdue narrowed the lead to one before halftime thanks to a technical foul on Rob Wilson, which the referees referred to as a "contact foul".
After making the layup that gave Wisconsin a 28-23 lead with one minute left in the half, Wilson accidentally caught Robbie Hummel in the face with an elbow in celebration. The referees went to the monitor and determined the contact warranted a technical foul.
"They don't care about intent anymore. But they said that this year if there is blood they automatically [go to the monitor]," Ryan said. "I was thought it was intent. So now, I'm going to be on the lookout for that, because I did not know that."
The technical foul sent Hummel to the line where he made both free throws and cut Purdue's deficit to three.
"I didn't happen to have my book on me. I was going to do one of these," Ryan said, pretending his rule book was in his suit jacket pocket. "Well wait a minute, let me whip this out. But I didn't have it. That was the call."
Even if he did have the rule book, it wouldn't have mattered. Under Rule 10, Section 5, Article 1.d, the rule book states that the following is a technical foul: "Intentionaly contacting an opponent in an excessive but non-flagrant manner while the ball is dead."
Intentional or not, Wilson's contact fell under this rule.
After Kramer and Taylor traded baskets, Kramer hit another shot before the half was over and the Badgers held a 30-29 lead at the break.
But while the fans and even Bo Ryan -- who stayed on a court a little longer than usual clapping in the refs direction -- gave the officials a hard time at the end of the first half, the players clearly weren't worried about the turn of events.
UW opened up the second half with a 17-4 run, which was aided by an emphatic dunk by Keaton Nankivil after he grabbed two of his own misses in a row and surprised the entire building by throwing it down.
"[That dunk] was a statement that we weren't going to be pushed around in our own home," Hughes said. "It definitely gave us some momentum."
UW's lead reached its peak at 14 with 14:26 left in the game and while forward Jon Leuer struggled all night long on 2-for-15 shooting, Hughes came back and finished with 14 points on only three field goal attempts, while Bohannon and Taylor continued to carry Wisconsin the rest of the way.
The fact that Wisconsin only committed one turnover in the second half didn't hurt either.
The Boilermakers managed to cut the Badgers lead down to five with 12 seconds left, but it was too little too late. Wisconsin sealed the game by making 12 of its final 14 free throws, while Purdue -- who came into the game leading the Big Ten in field goal percentage -- only made 13-of-24 from the line on the day.
The win improved Wisconsin's conference record to 3-1 and keeps the Badgers right in the heart of a title race that can't be won in January, but can certainly be lost in January.