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Purdue vs. Wisconsin: Badgers battle to 62-55 victory

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The Badgers faced a tough opponent in the Purdue Boilermakers on Wednesday, but were able to emerge as victors in a 62-55 contest for first place in the Big Ten.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON -- The fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers took on a Purdue Boilermakers team that came into the Kohl Center undefeated in Big Ten play Wednesday night. The Badgers came into the game as 16-point favorites, but the game was much closer as the two Big Ten teams battled for first place atop the conference. The conference lead was ultimately settled, however, when Wisconsin emerged with a 62-55 win.

Frank Kaminsky, who played sick, faced his toughest post competition since the Battle 4 Atlantis when the senior went up against Joshua Smith of the Georgetown Hoyas. Kaminsky was able to find some success, scoring 10 points in the first half and finishing with 21. Redshirt senior Josh Gasser contributed nicely with five first-half points. Gasser finished with 15 points.

"I think everybody on both sides, coaches, players, officials everybody that was involved in that will sleep well tonight," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "There was a lot of energy out there on the court tonight. Whoever said basketball had to be pretty? Nobody, but it was a grind and I think there's going to be more of those in the league, too."

In the first half, Wisconsin struggled to get going on offense after starting 2-of-10 from the field. The Badgers shot 37.5 percent from the floor in the first half and after a Josh Gasser three-pointer at the 16:45 mark, did not hit a three for the rest of the half on their way to an 18.2-percent half from deep. One of those three-point misses in the first half by Gasser allowed Sam Dekker to eclipse the 1,000-point career total with an emphatic put-back slam dunk.

"Well, It's pretty cool, obviously. I thank my teammates for getting me the ball," Dekker said. "I've had a great opportunity here to play basketball at a great institution like this. You know I can't take it for granted. I've had a lot of success."

Purdue's size contributed to the struggles, with the Boilermaker frontcourt consisting of two 7-footers in Isaac Haas and A.J. Hammons going up against Kaminsky. Purdue was able to win the points-in-the-paint battle, outscoring Wisconsin 18-14 in the first half, but the Badgers scored 10 points off of six Boilermakers turnovers. That proved to be the difference in the first half as Wisconsin entered leading 28-27.

As the second half began, it became very clear that this game was not one for the weak as bodies jostled for position and elbows went flying. A much slower second half saw much of the same back-and-forth that was seen in the first half with more fouls called as the game became more physical. The Badgers were able to keep the lead early and extend it with much better shooting than in the first half. Purdue never led after the first half.

Kaminsky was able to get to the foul line in the second half and improved his free-throw shooting after going 4-of-6 in the second half on his way to 21 points and 11-of-14 from the free-throw line.

"Things were called touch on the perimeter and then there was a bloodbath inside and those weren't called," Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. "That's life on the road."

"That's a gutty performance by our guys and by their team," Ryan said. "Frank did his job. Nigel [Hayes] really helped in the second half to put side and front pressure on [Purdue]."

The win over the Boilermakers gives the Badgers sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and helped Ryan pass Walter "Doc" Meanwell as the school's all time leader in Big Ten victories by a coach. Ryan said that when he came to Wisconsin in the 1970s, he was told a lot of stories about Meanwell, adding he is in good company when his name is mentioned amongst a coach like him. Meanwell coached from 1911-17 and again from 1920-34.

"I wish I had been around when he coached," Ryan said. "To be mentioned, as I've said a hundred times, in the same sentence is exciting. I want to thank all of my assistants and players and everybody that's a part of this because everyone's been a part of this.

"It's a nice number. I'd like it to keep going for our guys."

The Badgers next play Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J., Sunday at 5 p.m. CT on BTN.