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Comeback thwarted: Wisconsin basketball loses to Marquette

Wisconsin dropped its first game to in-state rival Marquette since 2012 on Saturday in just the latest of a series of heartbreaking losses at the Kohl Center.

MADISON -- If home is where the heart is, then the Kohl Center is a lodging for plenty of cardinal red-and-white heartbreak and anguish.

For the third time this season, the Wisconsin Badgers (6-5) lost a one-possession game on their home floor, falling 57-55 on Saturday to the Marquette Golden Eagles (8-2).

With Wisconsin's top two scorers, forward Nigel Hayes and guard Bronson Koenig struggling to find the bottom of the net, forward Vitto Brown stepped up to score 15 points for the Badgers.

Forward Henry Ellenson scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Golden Eagles to their first victory in the in-state rivalry series since 2012.

"This was bragging rights," Ellenson said. "I wanted to show who was the best team in the state."

After Wisconsin's 6-5 start and consecutive losses to Milwaukee and Marquette, it's difficult for a team coming off two Final Four appearances in as many years to claim that title.

Trailing 48-34 with less than 10 minutes to play, the Badgers surmounted the 14-point second half deficit to tie the game twice within the game's final 90 seconds.

A Luke Fischer tip-in on an Ellenson miss with 27 seconds to play gave the Golden Eagles a 57-55 lead and, eventually, the win. Hayes missed two shots on the ensuing possession and the Badgers failed to take advantage of two missed free throws with under six seconds left.

A low-scoring contest throughout nearly all of Saturday afternoon turned into a full-fledged NASCAR event in the game's final two minutes.

Trailing 53-48, Koenig drained a three and Brown hit a jump shot to tie the game with 1:29 to play. Ellenson and Hayes then traded baskets to draw the score at 55-55 with 51 seconds left.

On Marquette's next possession, the 6'4 Koenig was switched defensively onto the 6'11 Ellenson, who backed him down into the post. Brown slid over to provide help defense for the Badgers, which left Fischer to run free to the weak side for the put-back on Ellenson's miss.

"No one came to box me out, so I had a pretty easy offensive rebound and put-back," Fischer said.

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes missed two shots on the Badgers' ensuing possession. Guard Haanif Cheatham stepped to the line and missed his free throw with 4 seconds left, but Fischer came down with the rebound.

Marquette gave Wisconsin yet another glimmer of hope when guard Sandy Cohen III's free throw rimmed out, but the Badgers were unable to get off a final shot.

After losing 68-67 at home to Milwaukee, the Badgers are now 0-2 in games against teams within the state and suffered their first two-game losing streak since February 1, 2014.

"We don't look at is as we lost two in a row and we're done now," Brown said.

It took Wisconsin's best stretch of basketball of the season to even bring the game's decision down to the final seconds.

The Golden Eagles led 39-26 thanks to a 19-3 run that spanned both halves. Wisconsin reeled off the next six points, but Ellenson and Fischer responded with a quick 7-0 spurt to give Marquette its biggest lead of the game at 46-32 with 11:33 remaining.

With the Kohl Center no louder than the UW libraries where students studied for finals, the Badgers restored a raucous atmosphere as they began their comeback.

Wisconsin forced four turnovers on their next seven defensive possessions and a Hayes three-pointer cut the lead to 48-44, igniting the Kohl Center to a volume unprecedented this season.

"We can see within that little run that we had that we're capable of playing a better brand of basketball and that, if we can put that little span into an entire game, obviously we'll be a much better team," Hayes said.

Head coach Bo Ryan's team continued to chip away. Trailing by five points as a media timeout was called with 2:43 to play, the Badgers were in a position to come away with the victory.

However, in a scenario all-too familiar to the Badgers this season, they came short in a nail-biter.

"We got some turnovers, we got some good looks," Ryan said. "But still, in the end you come up short."

For the fifth time this season, Wisconsin shot under 40 percent, finishing the game at 36.4 percent on a 24-for-66 outing.

"When you're trying to play ‘beat the clock', that's not good for your shooting percentage," Ryan said.

Hayes and Koenig entered the game combining to score nearly 33 points per game; with the Golden Eagles defense making a clear attempt to go all-in on making things difficult for them, the junior duo shot 7-for-29 (24.1 percent) and scored 18 points—including just three in the first half.

"Those two kids at their position match up with anyone, and they have great game experience," Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "And they've been a part of and used to winning. Obviously, stopping those two guys or trying to slow them down was a huge key to the game.

"We thought we wanted to be really aggressive on ball screens against Koenig, and we were able to do that...and I thought Sandy Cohen had a remarkable game against Hayes."

Hayes finished with 10 points, six rebounds and six assists, but didn't hit his first field goal until the 18:08 mark of the second half. He led the Badgers with nine second-half points on 4-for-10 shooting, but his two misses in the game's final 15 seconds loomed large.

"As the game went on, me being looked at as a leader of the team, I took it on myself to try and shoot through those and the ball didn't go in this time," Hayes said.

Against Marquette's interior of Ellenson and Fischer, the Badgers struggled to get to the rim throughout the game, indicated by only 10 points combined from layups and free throws.

"They did a good job of walling up with their bigs inside," Ryan said. "They shut down a lot of penetration to the rim...When you can't get there, you can't get those bumps that they're calling now, you can't get the fouls."

The Badgers averaged 0.89 points per possession, compared to Marquette's 0.95.

"When you go from the most efficient offense in the country to doing some of the things we're doing now, tomorrow at practice you better to eliminate three of those for the next game," Ryan said.

Wisconsin cut down on turnovers by nearly four from their season average of 10.7, but was out-scored in the paint 36-16, 17-2 on the fast break and 15-0 on the bench.

"We're hoping to get some more scoring from some guys," Ryan said.

Forward Ethan Happ went 6-for-11 from the field and scored 12 points and guard Zak Showalter added his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

In the end, it was yet another tough pill to swallow for the Badgers.

First, it was a Koenig missed jumper at the buzzer in a 69-67 loss to Western Illinois.

Then, it was a blown 12-point second half lead and 68-67 loss to Milwaukee.

This time, it was a furious rally against the Golden Eagles that, in the end, just simply wasn't enough.

"We're just learning every time. We're not going to hang our heads after this game," Brown said.

Fischer scored 12 points and had eight rebounds for Marquette and guard Duane Wilson added nine points and four assists.