Another dismal first half for Wisconsin spelled trouble early, while a late surge with Ethan Happ on the bench gave a glimmer of hope—even taking a lead with two minutes left. Despite some open looks for sophomore Nate Reuvers in the final minute, Anthony Cowan Jr. and Maryland pulled out a 64-60 contest at the Xfinity Center on Monday night.
Very much a tale of two halves, really maybe a tale of the first 30 minutes compared to the final 10, Wisconsin pounced back and put itself in position for a key road victory. That obviously did not come to pass.
With that, a look at some quick takeaways from the loss, with No. 2 Michigan looming in a Kohl Center contest on Saturday morning.
Wisconsin cannot afford any more first half follies like this
That’s the second time in the last four conference games that Wisconsin has had to overcome a putrid first 20 minutes.
After scoring just 14 points and shooting 23.2 percent against Minnesota on Jan. 3, the Badgers nearly replicated that performance with 15 points and hitting under 27 percent of their attempts on Monday night against the Terps.
Sometimes the ball just does not go in the bucket, but a team that relies on the three did not connect on any in eight attempts in those first 20 minutes. There were also seven turnovers committed that obviously did not help its cause as well.
The offense just looked inept, going for stretches of 6:56 and 4:08 without a point in that first half.
By all means, there has to be credit given to Maryland for the way they defended Wisconsin as well. Despite being up 18 at the half, the Terps did not shoot well either—making only 39.3 percent of its field goal attempts.
Here’s a somewhat sobering statistic from the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jim Polzin.
The scary (sad?) part about the #Badgers' first-half performances against Minnesota and Maryland is that both of those teams are 50ish in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Michigan, which comes to town on Saturday, is No. 4.— Jim Polzin (@JimPolzinWSJ) January 15, 2019
That being said...
There is a fight to this team
There are no moral victories. A variation of that statement was referenced by head coach Greg Gard after the game, but the way his squad came back and scored 45 points in the second half is commendable. There were some takeaways to build upon heading into this weekend’s match-up against the Wolverines, and those will be absolutely needed if there is any chance for an upset.
After redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ received his fourth foul at the 10:38 mark, I did not know how Wisconsin would particularly respond. The Badgers were down 18 after Bruno Fernando’s two free throws, and their best player was being sent to the bench for an extended period of time.
Then Wisconsin went on a 27-8 run in a 7:39 stretch that culminated with Brad Davison’s three-pointer with 2:01 remaining to give UW its first lead since a 4-2 advantage early in the game. During that time, Nate Reuvers scored 13 of his career-high 18 points—including an 8-0 run on his own.
Probably the most impressive thing about the second half was not just the scoring binge that culminated in the final 9:40 of the game, but Wisconsin locked down Maryland’s offense in that span.
Again, a loss is a loss—one that hurts UW in midst of a deep Big Ten—but I did not think I would be typing late on Monday night that Wisconsin was ahead at one point late in the game.
“I like the fight and resolve we showed...My group showed me something tonight— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) January 15, 2019
"But, there's no moral victory attitude in that locker room" pic.twitter.com/0DFm8MZ9u8
Maybe we’ve seen a taste of what’s to come next season
With Happ on the bench from the 10:38 to the 5:37 mark, it was a pleasant surprise to see the scoring emerge and defense stand firm. With the big man and All-American candidate gone after this season in exhausting his eligibility, others had to step up—and they did—in outscoring Maryland 16-6 before Happ returned to the game for the final five-plus minutes.
Particularly in Reuvers with that monster end to the game, despite missing his two final three-pointers less than a minute left in the game, he showed once again that he has both an inside and outside game. How he adds to his frame and progresses in all facets of the game will be something to watch the rest of the season and into next.
Overall in the second half, Wisconsin saw Reuvers score all 18 of his points, Trice with nine of his 13 points, Davison with six of his 11 and redshirt freshman guard Kobe King with all five of his points.
In this takeaway, there is absolutely no advocating here for Happ to have a lesser role on the team. He is the best player on the squad and one of the best in the nation for a reason with his inside play, rebounding prowess and ability to dish those assists out. Just pointing out that others have needed to step up this season, and with the big man out for a period, that is a promising sign and potentially a window into next season—especially if that production becomes more consistent.