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Wisconsin falls on the road to Purdue

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No-go for a sweep in The Hoosier State.

As the Wisconsin Badgers looked to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the Big Ten and extend their winning streak to 10 games, they stumbled into West Lafayette to face a bruising Purdue Boilermakers team that dominated them inside and outside for 40 minutes in a 66-55 Purdue victory Sunday afternoon at Mackey Arena.

Poor shooting plagued Wisconsin all day, going 2-of-14 from three and 23-of-59 overall, a 39 percent mark while Purdue shot 52 percent from the field, 47 percent from three and went 11-of-12 from the free-throw line.

Asked to do absolutely everything, Ethan Happ gave his heart and soul in the loss and he was the Badgers’ best player all night. He led UW in points, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks; he’s Wisconsin’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Purdue’s Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner, Caleb Swanigan, notched another double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Isaac Haas was the only other player in double-digit scoring at 13. A combination of Wisconsin’s’ inability to get open looks from deep or knock them down, as well as Purdue’s balanced offense, ability to confound Wisconsin’s defense for open looks and dominance on the boards led to a sound Badger beatdown.

The first half was a battle in the trenches with Happ and Swanigan the focal points on offense, battling it out in the post on both ends. A struggling Wisconsin offense fed off Happ. Feeding him on seemingly every possession, Happ used his spin moves and driving action to put in a couple buckets, but he was acutely aware of the attention being given to him and exploited the Purdue mishaps.

The monotonous, flowing back-side action of the swing offense lulled Purdue’s defense to sleep and allowed Nigel Hayes, Zak Showalter and Khalil Iverson, on three separate occasions, to sneak to the weak-side block where Happ found them for easy buckets—or a trademark thunderous dunk from Iverson.

Besides Happ, though, the inside was tough to get to for Wisconsin with Swanigan patrolling the paint no matter where Happ went outside the lane. Later in the half, the Badgers ran more pick-and-roll with Happ to open up some space, move Swanigan and kickstart a stagnant offense that didn’t score for about seven minutes.

An 0-6 mark from the three-point line (34.5 percent overall) really hurt the Badgers overall, putting more pressure on Happ down low against one of the few teams in the Big Ten with multiple physically-dominant big men. A late-half run from the Badgers, including inside buckets from Alex Illikainen and Hayes, cut the lead down as Purdue was gaining momentum. Even though Purdue turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, it still went into halftime up 29-23 thanks to a 52.6 percent shooting percentage and 3-of-6 from three-point range.

After two turnovers to start the second half, a flip was switched as Wisconsin went 5-of-5 from the field including a Showalter three-pointer to cut the Purdue lead to four, the Badgers were in business and ready to make this a game. However, that would be the only three-pointer the Badgers knocked down until there were 10 seconds remaining in the game.

About six minutes into the half, a Happ steal and a toss to D’Mitrik Trice streaking solo down the court resulted in a missed Trice bucket from just under the hoop. Next, Haas grabbed a rebound from the heavens and kicked out to Thompson for a three-pointer.

The 7’2, 290-pound Haas was dominant for a few possessions in each half, putting in a couple buckets and grabbing timely rebounds while tiring Wisconsin out on defense with his enormous size.

The Badgers had no answer for Swanigan, who was too quick for Happ to guard and too big for Hayes to shut down like we’ve seen him do this season. He didn’t register his fifth 20-20 game, but that may be more a product of the slower pace Wisconsin plays with. Attacking the boards with a tenacity, Swanigan would sky in out of nowhere to grab a rebound or, like a graceful brute, collide with a Badger down low and will that ball into his hands. Swanigan had eight turnovers in the game (Purdue had 18 as a team), but that doesn’t matter when the Badgers couldn’t take advantage of it.

Bronson Koenig didn’t make an impact on this game until the last couple of minutes when the game was out of reach. He was shut down all game by P.J. Thompson, who stuck on him like glue and denied him any chance at getting to the rim or glimpsing daylight. Wisconsin’s defense had no answer for the Purdue offense that got big shots from role players throughout the game to extend the lead when it stole the momentum from the Badgers.

That play would prove to be the turning point as the Boilermakers went on a 12-0 run to extend their lead to 52-36. The Badgers continued to fight the rest of the game, but the combination of Haas and Swanigan was just too much. Their size and power inside was too much for the Badgers as their exhaustion limited any type of comeback —any semblance of a high-powered Wisconsin offense was left in Bloomington.

It was a lot to ask of the Badgers to sweep the state of Indiana on back-to-back games, but this wasn’t a great showing. There’s still a long way to go for them and this already tumultuous Big Ten season, but they’re in a great position at 2-1 in conference. Losing their only matchup against Purdue hurts a tiebreaker scenario against Wisconsin’s biggest competition, but there’s a long way to go until March.

Odds and ends

  • In the first half, the back-door action was working for the Badgers as they ran their base swing offense and the Boilermakers’ defense improved. To begin the second half, Wisconsin attacked Purdue on the wing with the deadly Happ/Hayes pick-and-roll with two straight beautiful passes from Hayes to Happ rolling to the basket as Happ’s defender showed just enough to open up a passing lane. In both halves, the Badgers found a wrinkle in the game that worked, but then it disappeared from their arsenal and they resorted to dumping the ball in to Happ, who went 7-of-16 from the floor. They grew too reliant on Happ against the one team that’s capable of shutting him down, even though they couldn’t.
  • Happ’s six steals were absolutely incredible against a team with two very capable big men and a team that, presumably, should be able to get the ball into the aforementioned big men. Happ’s awareness of the play’s development and timing on the entry pass is impeccable. He waits on the back side, shading slightly toward the baseline sid, and then jumps out, contorts his body and swats the ball down every time. He’s a special talent. Converting on those turnovers is so important and a huge reason why the Badgers lost today, too.
  • Wisconsin took 59 shots compared to Purdue’s 46 and it lost by 11 points. An anemic offense like this won’t cut it, even in the Big Ten. The Badgers’ game plan was much too inside-oriented. There were stretches where their offense changed, but they kept resorting to feed Happ and then they seemed to do a lot of watching. Utilizing more ball movement to free the outside shooters for a Happ kick-out pass was needed, including more of the back-side screening and cutting. On a few occasions, the Badgers found open cutters on the backside or cutting into the middle of the lane for easy buckets, but against a great defense like Purdue the off-ball movement has to be well choreographed and constant. The Badgers needed a lot more inside-outside movement to take the stress and pressure off Happ and get everyone else better looks.
  • Wisconsin’s defense did its best to guard the two big men, including Alex Illikainen, who had a few great defensive possessions guarding Haas, but the rest of the team had no answer for some of the Purdue movement. The Boilermakers played a more fluid inside-outside game with more ball movement and screens that had the Badgers more confused than usual. But the Boilermaker offense was just too much today. Even on a great defensive possession, Purdue was hitting its shots and hitting them at the right time (see a possession late in the first half where Wisconsin played a beautiful 30 seconds of defense until Dakota Mathias knocked down a prayer from the three-point line.)