The Wisconsin Badgers fell to Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena 70-65 on Tuesday night to drop to 9-9 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1999-2000.
Nigel Hayes led the Badgers with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists, but Wildcats guard Bryant McIntosh stole the show, finishing with 28 points.
Wisconsin led only three times in the game, the last coming on a Zak Showalter three to give them a 47-45 advantage with 8:44 to play in the second half. The Wildcats then unleashed a 12-3 run to pull out to a 57-50 advantage.
As the final few minutes dragged out, the Badgers kept alive slight glimmers of hope, but an offensive foul--albeit questionable--called on Bronson Koenig with 12 seconds remaining effectively ended the game.
Here are three things we learned:
1. Wisconsin struggled defensively, but it's nothing to worry about
McIntosh, who entered the game averaging 15.4 points per game, took over in the second half, when he scored 20 of his 28 points.
His explosion was part of a game-wide second half offensive outburst. After going into the half leading 26-24, Northwestern unleashed 44 points over the game's final 20 minutes.
The Wildcats finished with 1.13 points per possession. That figure doesn't scream bloody murder in itself, but there were clear defensive lapses for the Badgers on defense.
Officiating debates aside, Northwestern shot 34 free throws as Wisconsin committed 21 fouls. Fortunately for the Badgers, the Wildcats missing 12 of those attempts allowed them to hang around.
McIntosh played the largest role in giving the Badgers defensive fits. His ability to create off the dribble for himself and his teammates--his five assists all led to easy buckets in the paint--was the key for the Wildcats.
Most of the Badgers' defensive issues came off ball screens. Switching on screens, it left them facing plenty of mismatches on that end. McIntosh was able to penetrate the lane for layups and floaters, and Northwestern's bigs were able to get to the free throw line with frequency against smaller defenders.
Hold back on your Badgers defensive hot takes, though. It was the first game in which Wisconsin has allowed over 1.0 points per possession since Oklahoma on November 29.
2. Nigel Hayes spoke up
Bucky's 5th Quarter didn't cover the game as working media, but the Wisconsin State Journal's Jim Polzin's game story featured some telling quotes from Hayes.
"I've never been one to go around yelling and I try not to cuss, but if that's what it takes for me to get my guys and myself to play better and get some wins, it's something I'll have to do."
As he mentioned in the quote, Hayes is normally completely composed after tough losses. But after this one, he used an expletive to describe how he was feeling.
"Some guys have to do some soul-searching to find out why they play the game, what they want out of this."
3. Despite shaky play, Badgers are still remaining competitive
Wisconsin has not played particularly well in any of its four Big Ten losses. In spite of that, the Badgers have lost by only a combined 15 points.
Two of those losses have come against No. 3 Maryland and No. 14 Purdue (rankings representative of the time when the teams played). The other two were at Indiana and Northwestern, who are a combined 29-6 this season.
Interim head coach Greg Gard has Wisconsin playing quality teams down to the wire, but the Badgers simply have not done the necessary things to win those close games.