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Purdue vs. Wisconsin: Badgers fall just short in 61-55 loss to Boilermakers

Despite strong efforts from Nigel Hayes and Alex Illikainen, Wisconsin could not complete a second-half comeback against No. 14 Purdue.

Despite a career night for Wisconsin true freshman Alex Illikainen, who scored a personal-best 10 points in 11 minutes, the Badgers were unable to full keep pace with No. 14 Purdue as the steamrolling Boilermakers eventually pulled away in a 61-55 win Tuesday night at the Kohl Center.

Seven-foot beast incarnate,A.J. Hammons led the way for Purdue with a dominant performance including 24 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in the victory.

Junior forward Nigel Hayes did all he could to keep the Badgers in the game, scoring 17 points, pulling down seven rebounds and dishing out two assists. Still, one man can only do so much. If UW was going to pull off the upset, it was going to have to be a full team effort.

The Badgers opened the game going down 8-2 within the first three minutes thanks to the solid three point-shooting of the Boilermakers. However, Hayes would not go away easily, scoring five of Wisconsin's next nine points. At the television timeout with 11:30, the Badgers trailed only 14-11.

Rather than spurning the run by the Badgers, the short break allowed them to refuel and extend their run. Over the next 10.5 minutes, the Badgers went on a 13-4 run and held a 24-18 lead with 1:54 remaining in the half. Unfortunately, Wisconsin would be shut out for the rest of the half.

Purdue, on the other hand, took advantage of its strong defensive stance and tied the game at 24-24 going into the break.

Coming out of halftime, the Badgers and the Boilermakers went back and forth, trading buckets the first few minutes of the half. With 15:41 remaining, it was all knotted up at 31-31.

Yet, the young Wisconsin team could not keep pace with the experience of Purdue, which allowed the Boilermakers to go on a short but costly 7-0 run. The Badgers trailed 38-31, and were in need of a spark.

Enter Zak Showalter.

The redshirt junior brought every fan in the Kohl Center to their feet with his thunderous block of Purdue's P.J. Thompson. He then proceeded to bring the Badgers within five points with an incredible acrobatic lay-up. Following two more Hayes buckets, Wisconsin only trailed by three and looked poised for a comeback. Unfortunately, this was where things began to break down.

After Showalter was caught reaching on Hammons, the foul count began to overwhelm the Badgers. Showalter, Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown all had three fouls with more than seven minutes remaining.

With all three players on the bench, Hammons took over, scoring 10 consecutive points for the Boilermakers, six of which were unanswered.

With 5:41 remaining and Wisconsin trailing 48-37, UW head coach Greg Gard took a timeout. The Badgers were once again on the brink of letting the game get out of hand.

Since Showalter had three fouls and was sitting on the bench, Wisconsin would have to look elsewhere for a spark. It came from one of the most surprising places in Illikainen. The big man first broke into the box score with two consecutive three=point jumpers, then hit an ice-cold 15-footer to cut Purdue's lead to 52-49 with 1:42 remaining.

For a second time, the Badgers were in perfect position to pull off a huge upset -- but, for the second time, they couldn't pull it off. Datoka Mathias hit back-to-back three point daggers and then UW turned the ball over on an errant inbounds pass, leading to an easy Purdue layup.

At that point, the Badgers trailed 60-51 with 12 seconds left.