After a hot start, Wisconsin found itself in a closer-than-anticipated road contest with Penn State in Happy Valley on Wednesday night. The Badgers (24-2, 12-1 Big Ten), however, came through with a 55-47 win over the Nittany Lions (15-12, 3-11 Big Ten) that moved their winning streak to nine games.
The Badgers pushed their first-half lead to as many as 11 points before going ice cold from the floor. An eight-minute stretch without a made field goal allowed the Nittany Lions to sneak back into the game.
Uncharacteristic sloppy turnovers and cold shooting also helped spark the Penn State run. D.J. Newbill continued his career of high-scoring games against the Badgers with 16 first-half points and finished with 31 points on 13-of-21 shooting. Newbill scored the first 12 points for Penn State, but another Nittany Lion did not score until under five minutes were left in the half.
Penn State was able to close the gap to 24-21 with just under three minutes to play in the first half. Wisconsin's inability to stop Newbill and cut down his driving lanes opened up the floor for Brandon Taylor and Julian Moore to knock down three-pointers.
Newbill was able to score in a variety of ways, though Wisconsin seemed especially unable to stop him from attacking off the dribble drive. Perimeter defense has been one of the few weak spots for the Badgers this season; for much of it, the Badger offense has been efficient enough to overcome an occasional hot shooting guard.
Wednesday, Wisconsin was led by a career night from Sam Dekker. Showcasing a combination of outside shooting and drives to the basket, Dekker had 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Most impressively, he was able to recognize the Badgers' shooting slump and get a few easy looks at the rim by attacking off the dribble.
Frank Kaminsky added 16 points, eight rebounds and a few key free throws down the stretch.
Wisconsin did struggle to score at various times, struggling to take advantage of a Penn State zone defense, something the Badgers usually have great success attacking. Cold shooting from beyond the arc at 5-of-22 allowed Penn State to stay in the game, and Wisconsin's usual crisp passing, especially in the paint, was just a bit off. Despite the final result, this game was sloppy in execution for what we have come to expect from this team.
Additionally, in what has become a concerning trend since the injury to Traevon Jackson, the starting five played a vast majority of available minutes. Perhaps the sloppiness can be attributed to nothing more than a one game samlpe in a long conference season. However, the additional minutes are bound to take a toll without some more consistent reserve play.
Without a doubt, this kind of grind-it-out road game in the Big Ten is one that frequently sees the home team pull an upset. Credit the talent and moxie of this Badger team for earning a win in a challenging, physical game away from the Kohl Center. It has been said before, but bears mentioning again: enjoy this team, Badger fans. It is truly special.