MADISON—The Wisconsin Badgers could not overcome a terrible first half and struggles from the free throw line and deep in a 59-52 loss at the Kohl Center on Thursday night.
Despite only scoring 14 points and hitting less than a quarter of its shots in the first 20 minutes, Wisconsin (10-4, 2-1 Big Ten) found itself within a basket late in the game but faltered with critical turnovers at inopportune times.
UW shot only 41.7 percent (20 of 48) from the field overall, 22.7 percent (five of 22) from three-point range. All free throw opportunities were attempted in the second half, and the Badgers converted on just seven of 17 (41.2 percent) of them.
Redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ scored a team-high 17 points with eight rebounds, but only hit on 1-of-7 shots from the free throw line. Sophomore forward Nate Reuvers emerged as a scoring threat, connecting for 12 points on four of 10 field goal attempts with five rebounds and two blocks.
Redshirt sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice again struggled, recording eight points on three of 10 attempts (two of seven from three-point range). He also committed four turnovers—including two within the final 84 seconds.
Guard Amir Coffey scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting with six rebounds for Minnesota (12-2, 2-1). Senior forward Jordan Murphy fouled out but recorded five points and 11 rebounds while guard Dupree McBrayer tallied 14 points in the win.
On the glass, Minnesota also out-rebounded Wisconsin 37-25 and shot 43.8 percent (21 of 48) overall.
The Gophers staked out a 29-14 lead at the half, thanks to a 9:03 scoring drought in the first half for the Badgers. During that stretch, the Badgers missed nine field goals and committed four turnovers.
Brevin Pritzl’s three-pointer at the 7:48 mark broke the drought, but Wisconsin would go on to shoot only 23.1 percent from the field in the first half (6-of-26).
The Gophers did not shoot great, either, only hitting on 40.7 percent (11 of 27) in the first 20 minutes but connected on three of five three-pointers. Coffey, however, actually outscored Wisconsin in the half with his 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Murphy grabbed 10 rebounds in the first half as well.
Wisconsin started off hot in the second half to start trimming the large deficit. A 12-2 run allowed the Badgers to pull within five points at 31-26 after a Trice three-pointer at the 15:33 mark.
Minnesota countered with a 9-2 run in 99 seconds with consecutive three-pointers by Brock Stull that pushed the lead back out to 12 at 40-28 with 12:10 left.
The Badgers again trimmed the Gophers’ lead to single digits for about four-and-a-half minutes until Richard Pitino’s squad extended it to 11 after a McBrayer three at the 6:16 mark.
Wisconsin pushed and cut the deficit to four after Ethan Happ’s steal and subsequent layup with 3:28 remaining. For a stretch, Minnesota did not score for over four-and-a-half minutes, but UW could not capitalize at the free throw line in the bonus.
Happ missed six free throws in the final 8:04 of the second half, including four in the final 2:41. Senior forward Khalil Iverson only connected on one of four attempts as well.
With Murphy fouling out at the 3:44 mark and the gap closing quickly, Wisconsin appeared to have the momentum late to pull off the win. A Trice layup with 2:05 remaining made it a two-point game at 49-47.
However, Coffey hit a key shot to extend the lead to four with 1:36 left in the contest.
Then the wheels fell off for Wisconsin in committing three straight turnovers—two from Trice and one from sophomore guard Brad Davison.
McBrayer came up with two steals in that span, and Minnesota pushed the lead back out to eight points with his dunk after the second takeaway with 58 seconds remaining. UW coughed up possessions 11 times on Thursday night.
Wisconsin tightened the gap to five points at 55-50 after a Kobe King three-pointer with 21 seconds left, but Minnesota closed out the victory—the first time it has won at the Kohl Center since 2009 and breaking an eight-game losing streak to UW overall.