BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — In a game that featured nine lead changes and the score tied six times, Tuesday night’s game at Assembly Hall looked more like a heavyweight title fight than a Big Ten basketball game.
But when push came to shove and the smoke finally settled Wisconsin (13-4, 4-0 Big Ten) found a way to get the last punch, stunning No. 2 Indiana (15-2, 3-1) in a 64-59 upset, giving the upstart Badgers their seventh consecutive win and first-ever road victory over a team ranked second in the AP poll.
"Everybody came in with the right attitude, everybody came in loose," redshirt senior Mike Bruesewitz said. "We came in saying ‘Why not us?’ We’ve had success here before and we obviously continued to have success."
And perhaps no one played looser than Bruesewitz, who overcame two first half airballs, and countless taunts from the Assembly Hall crowd, to finish the game with a gritty 10 points and three rebounds, one of four Wisconsin players to record double digits in the points column.
Bruesewitz also made his mark when it mattered most, sinking four of his six free throws in the games closing two minutes to ice the victory for UW.
As a team on the night, the Badgers shot 11-for-14 from the line, a marked improvement for a squad ranked dead last in the conference in free throw percentage.
"I think the misses (on free throws this season) were all a fluke, now we’re back to our normal self," redshirt senior center Jared Berggren said.
There was no fluke about one of the highlight moments of the night for Berggren, who finished the night with five points and four rebounds. With the shot clock dwindling and the Badgers down 10-6, Berggren put the ball on the floor past Hoosiers’ star center Cody Zeller and skied towards the rim, posterizing Victor Oladipo in the process.
But besides the dunk, Berggren was largely overshadowed by the performance of his adversary, Zeller. In the first half the sophomore dominated Wisconsin, scoring 18 points on 8-for-8 shooting, but struggled to find open looks in the second. Zeller finished the game with 23 points and 10 rebounds, both numbers leading all players.
"Zeller is that much better this year, and he just destroyed Berggren and [Frank Kaminsky]," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "If it took 20 minutes to show our guys that he’s that good, so be it."
Redshirt senior forward Ryan Evans led Wisconsin with 13 points and eight rebounds on the night, including a timely jumper with three minutes remaining in the game to extend the Badgers’ lead to three and sparking a decisive 8-0 run that sent many Hoosier fans heading for the exits.
Wisconsin also limited Indiana’s opportunity to run, helping to slow down the tempo and limit any easy transition points. The Badgers only allowed the Hoosiers three fast break points and held the country’s top scoring team (entered game leading Division I with 87.1 points per game) to almost 30 fewer points than its average.
"I’m still extremely upset about the three points that [Indiana] got in transition," Ryan said. "It’s just what we normally do, we try to take away giving up easy baskets."
The Badgers extended their lead to 10 with a 13-1 run in the second half, jump started by an old fashioned three-point play by starting point guard Traevon Jackson, who finished with 11 points on the night.
Indiana answered with a run of their own, responding with a 10-1 run capped off by a three-pointer by freshman point guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell, narrowing the Wisconsin lead to just a single point.
But, as was the case throughout the game, the Badgers had an answer. After a missed three pointer by Berggren and the ball up for grabs by the baseline, guard Ben Brust picked up the rebound and took two backward dribbles. Brust quickly pulled back and nailed the jumper, silencing the Assembly Hall crowd that was roaring at a fever pitch.
However, the Hoosiers weren’t done yet, as senior forward Christian Watford drew a foul and converted both of his free throws, once again narrowing the Badgers’ lead down to one. But Evans answered for Wisconsin, hitting a fading, turn-around jumper from 15-feet with Oladipo draped all over him.
On the next possession, Jackson shook off Evans and pulled up from the left elbow, nailing a jumper and extending the lead back to 58-53 and effectively sealing the deal on Ryan’s 664th career win and the program’s 11th straight over Indiana.
The win also moved Wisconsin into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
"I know we got a bunch of mean guys in our locker room who won’t quit and are tough and gritty," Bruesewitz said. "We have guys with a lot of heart."