Improving to 9-1 in conference play, the Wisconsin Badgers defeated a shorthanded Indiana Hoosiers team 65-60 in Madison on Sunday. The hard-fought contest was decided by one of the Badgers’ arch-enemies this season: the free-throw line.
Although Wisconsin (20-3, 9-1) got out to an early lead and never relinquished it other than a tie late in the first half, Indiana (15-9, 5-6) was perpetually lurking, waiting to strike with a drowning defense.
Ethan Happ went 8-of-10 from the floor for 20 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks, once again outplaying Indiana’s Thomas Bryant, who scored 11 points and grabbed six boards but was a non-factor down the stretch due to foul trouble.
Nigel Hayes tallied another double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds (six offensive) and went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line, reversing a much-discussed narrative this season. Bronson Koenig poured in 11 points with two three-pointers and clutch free throws down the stretch. Brevin Pritzl put in his most productive game of the season, going 4-of-4 from the free-throw line, scoring on a pump-fake dribble-drive at the rim and playing solid defense in his late-second half stint.
Wisconsin played solidly all day but couldn’t put away an Indiana team that was missing two starters, OG Anunoby and James Blackmon Jr., thanks to a 4-of-17 mark from the three-point line. The Badgers shot below 40 percent from the field with the Hoosiers playing great defense by extending the perimeter, hedging way out on screens and being feisty in the passing lanes.
Top 5 Plays vs Indiana | Wisconsin Badgers - YouTube
Going on the attack was the difference for Wisconsin, which went 23-of-31 from the free-throw line compared to just 11-of-12 for Indiana. The smart, foul-light defense for the Badgers outstretched the more flailing, aggressive, foul-heavy defense of the Hoosiers (it also might’ve helped that the game was played at the Kohl Center).
Wisconsin and Indiana both played sloppy at times, turning the ball over 13 and 15 times respectively in another hard-fought, Big Ten battle.
Happ put in the the Badgers’ first couple of points and had multiple successful trips to the free-throw line with the Hoosiers not trusting Bryant to guard him, hoping he’ll avoid foul trouble. The Hoosiers started 0-of-6 from the field, but the Badgers couldn’t capitalize, missing a couple of mid-range jumpers and turning the ball over in search of better shots in the lane.
Wisconsin searched for good shots, but Indiana’s defense was stifling the perimeter and scrambling into passing lanes, flailing arms to deflect passes. Happ got his second great block of the game by hustling down the court and swatting it from behind after a Khalil Iverson turnover, saving a layup and knocking it off a Hoosier in the process.
Indiana’s turnover troubles continued, but Bryant showed why he’s a top player in the Big Ten by grabbing an offensive rebound and knocking down a much-needed three-pointer. Tom Crean made a comical tactical mistake by throwing a zone at the Badgers; Hayes countered by threading a pass to Happ on the baseline, who laid it in and drew a foul.
It’s 2017 and teams are still zoning Wisconsin. pic.twitter.com/KgwqqITyAI— Big Ten Geeks (@bigtengeeks) February 5, 2017
However, the Badgers’ offense remained cold, continuing to miss three-pointers as they let the Hoosiers’ missteps go by without taking advantage. After allowing Indiana an 8-0 run, the teams traded dribble-drives for easy layups.
Koenig knocked down his first shot, a three from the wing, to give Wisconsin the lead on a Hayes kick-out after an offensive rebound. Once again, the Badgers controlled the ball for a full minute thanks to offensive rebounding, but Koenig was a victim of Indiana’s great defense, dribbling the ball into a shot-clock violation with 1.6 seconds left.
Wisconsin went into halftime up 27-24, going 2-of-8 from the three-point line, committing eight turnovers and proving unable to run up a lead against an Indiana team playing great defense but leaving a lot to be desired on the offensive end.
Shots were clanging off the rim left and right as the second half started out with both teams locked in on defense and fighting for rebounds and loose balls.
An impressive Happ dunk off an inbounds lob looked to put Wisconsin in control of the game, but Indiana knocked down a couple of shots to pull them back into the game. Two Bryant travels in the post and a much-deserved warning for Crean got Badgers fans on their feet amid a three-minute UW scoring drought.
Indiana cut the lead to two behind an impressive stint from DeRon Bryant’s stead (just like in the previous matchup between these two teams), but Wisconsin’s top seniors hit buckets to extend the lead. Posting up inside, Hayes backed his man down, spun and drew an and-one opportunity. Koenig subsequently knocked down another clutch three-pointer from the corner.
In a savvy veteran play, Zak Showalter gave Bryant a little nudge on a free-throw rebound attempt, forcing him further into Vitto Brown and forcing Bryant into picking up his fourth foul. With both teams in bonus, they traded free-throws back and forth as Pritzl played in front of Iverson down the stretch.
Happ jumped a pass on the perimeter and ran down the floor for a thunderous one-handed dunk, and then he blocked a shot near the rim, grabbed the loose ball and called a timeout before falling out of bounds. The head-smart sophomore knows how to take over a game on both ends of the floor.
Showalter hit a huge three-pointer and Pritzl knocked down two more free-throws after a loose ball banged around and sent Happ to the bench with an injury. Josh Newkirk, who had a game-high 22 points, answered with a three-pointer of his own. Hayes found Brown sprinting down the court through the press, but he missed a running layup that rolled off the rim.
Indiana attacked after the missed free throw, drew a foul and knocked down both free-throws, cutting the lead to just three points for Wisconsin. The Hoosiers just didn’t have enough in the tank, though, as Koenig knocked down 3-of-4 free throws and Hayes put in two more with 0.5 seconds left to get the home victory.
Odds and Ends:
- Purdue’s victory over Maryland on Saturday put Wisconsin in control of the Big Ten with eight games remaining and the aforementioned teams hot on its tail. Also, it will be interesting to watch Indiana come tournament time because CBS was pretty clear it thinks the Badgers won’t make the tournament.
- Happ went out at the end of the game with an unknown injury after taking a shot from Showalter in a scrum for a hotly-contested loose ball. Hopefully he’s OK, because he was hustling his butt off all day, especially in transition offense and defense.
This was that crazy-ass possession. pic.twitter.com/hbLKAcZTVw— Big Ten Geeks (@bigtengeeks) February 5, 2017
- The Badgers’ bench remains a revolving door with Alex Illikainen not seeing the court, Charles Thomas IV playing a few solid relief minutes and Pritzl getting some time late in the second half and probably earning himself more opportunities down the road.
- With Bryant guarding Hayes instead of Happ, I would’ve liked to see Hayes attack Bryant off the dribble from the wing more frequently and earlier in the game to force Bryant into an uncomfortable situation against a faster, more skilled player and maybe draw some fouls.
- Pritzl attacked the Hoosiers’ defense with pump-fakes and pass-fakes that he parlayed directly into a dribble-drive, drawing a foul and an easy layup. That’s the type of aggression this offense needs when it gets stagnant or complacent with perimeter passing and three-pointers.