MADISON—The No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers rebounded from an loss earlier this week to defeat the Penn State Nittany Lions in a closely fought 61-57 contest on Saturday afternoon inside the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin (20-9, 12-6 Big Ten) fought back from a seven-point halftime deficit and eventually held Penn State (12-17, 5-13) to under 60 points for the second time this season.
Some key reserve guard play and another instance of second half improvement played a huge role in the home victory.
Here are some of B5Q’s takeaways from a win that helps Wisconsin move into tie for fourth place in the Big Ten standings.
Brevin Pritzl contributes again, this time more in the scoring department
Several times we have noted how the redshirt junior guard has contributed this season in the rebounding category (see: Illinois) and being as Greg Gard referred to him earlier this season as, a “glue guy.”
Against Penn State, he hit all five of his shots, including all four from three-point range. Three came in the second half during key stretches between the 12:51 and 10:47 mark that helped turned the tide in the Badgers’ favor.
He finished the game with 17 points—tying a season-high that he gained in the win against Savannah State. His only miss of the afternoon was his second-to-last free throw attempt with 1.5 seconds remaining to help clinch the victory for the Badgers.
“I mean I was just feeding off of everybody else,” Pritzl said, noting how Ethan Happ got him going in the first half then “kind of just followed Brad” Davison.
“Every time Brad drove, my guy was looking to help so I just kind of snuck around, get the open spots, hit the shots.”
Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers noted Pritzl was the difference in the game because of his those second half threes.
“He’s shooting at a very high clip. I think he’s over 50 percent in his last five games, and now he’s going to be over 60, maybe higher,” Chambers said. “Give him credit, he was the difference in the game.”
For what it’s worth, Pritzl shot exactly 50 percent from the field the past five games entering Saturday’s matchup, including 4 of 7 from three-point range.
“He sparked us. There’s no doubt, and I think he’s done that at various times during the year,” Gard said. “Kobe’s done that. I thought even Charlie [Thomas]’s two-and-a-half minutes today, even though he didn’t score, I thought he changed the physicality of the game in terms of what was not going our way from a defensive rebounding standpoint. He moved some bodies around a little bit and got the, I think, mindset changed in terms of how we needed to be inside, but Brevin, obviously you make shots, that’s a big contribution.”
Watch out, @LilB_Pritz1!— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) March 2, 2019
The @BadgerMBB player was making it rain. ☔️
BTN x @Redbox pic.twitter.com/fMZlNnDgx7
Kobe King again shows his flashes of huge potential
When asked about both Pritzl and King, Gard noted what the two guards bring on both sides of the court.
“Both of them have taken steps forward in terms of maturity, and just I think the trust that the staff has in them for longer stretches has grown,” Gard said. “I think Kobe’s biggest adjustment has been the defensive end, and we find less lapses. Obviously, Khalil’s got a lot of experience so you jockey back and forth sometimes with those two guys. We played Khalil a lot at the ‘4’ tonight when matching up with Stevens, but they both have grown and both give us an offensive punch. You like to have some scorers off the bench, but it’s not always all about scoring—both guys have taken steps defensively, Brevin and Kobe, through the year where we can trust them on the floor.
“Sometimes it’s until I see their tongue hanging out, and I got to give them a break.”
On Saturday, seven of King’s nine points came in the first half that helped Wisconsin keep pace with Penn State. He played 20 minutes overall, shooting 4-of-8 from the field, while also recording a rebound and a block.
It was the most points he has scored since the 10-point performance against Grambling on Dec. 22, and also the most he has scored in a conference game this season.
King mentioned his teammates wanting him to be aggressive.
“When it’s coming from them, your brothers, telling you to be aggressive and they need me to be in attack mode, it kind of hits home a little bit harder so I just wanted to do that for them,” King said.
“And also for Otto. He’s my guy.”
For those that did not know, Wisconsin honored longtime official scorer and the very much beloved Otto Puls before Saturday’s game. He was announced as a member of the UW Athletics Hall of Fame’s class of 2019, and the official scorer’s table will now be called the “Otto Puls Official Scorer’s Table.” Very much deserved.
Wisconsin was not trying to foul on Penn State’s final possession
Both Pritzl and Gard mentioned that the Badgers were not trying to foul on Penn State’s final possession, a play that officials called a Nittany Lions turnover and ultimately sealed the win for Wisconsin.
“No, I was trying to run over so he didn’t shoot over a three, and [guard Rasir] Bolton, I felt he just ran into me,” Pritzl said. “Like I tried to stop my momentum, so I wasn’t trying to foul him at all, and it ended up working out in our favor.”
Gard explained it further during his postgame availability.
“Yeah, we were not fouling,” Gard said. “We were going to play it straight out, exchange things like we normally do. Take away all the threes. Force them to try to get inside the line, but no, there was not—and I talked to the officials about that coming out of the timeout. They ask, a lot. They ask that all the time what are you intents, so we were not fouling at that point, playing it straight out.”
I arrived to the postgame press conference in the middle of Chambers speaking, but it appears he views that differently.
More Chambers: "That was just unfortunate. I think D.J. (Carstensen) is a good ref. I think he has good demeanor. He just missed it.”— Jim Polzin (@JimPolzinWSJ) March 2, 2019
Second half comebacks are a thing for Wisconsin
In 16 of the 18 Big Ten matchups the Badgers have played, they have outscored their opponents.
On Saturday, they halted Penn State’s shooting to 24 percent in the final 20 minutes, including a frigid 1-of-9 from three-point range. Wisconsin contained Chambers’ team to no field goals in eight attempts during the final 8:01 of the contest.
Redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ, who recorded 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals in the win, couldn’t pinpoint one exact thing for the difference is with the team after halftime.
“I think it comes down, for me personally, I can’t speak for everyone on the team but I kind of get a feel of the game in the first half and how they’re playing me and what their schemes are and things like that, and then kind of adjust from there,” Happ said. “I would probably say that for a lot of guys as probably how they’re thinking and how they’re feeling.
“It always helps when Coach gets you fired up at the halftime speech, too.”
So about that speech ...
“It was a little more animated, but it was deservedly so for how we played in the first half,” Happ said. “A lot of it was about toughness. Being outworked on the boards is never a thing that we can allow and that was kind of what Penn State was getting in the first half. There’s a lot of little things, but a lot of it was about finishing at the rim and like I said, the toughness.”
Gard pointed to the same areas Happ alluded to earlier.
“Good thing nobody recorded it,” Gard said. “We needed to bow up a little bit. We need to finish better, and we needed to rebound better. When we can complete plays in the paint, then it helps set our defense. When we get to the free throw line, that helps set our defense.”
Gard noted the team didn’t win the battle of the 50-50 plays his staff charts in the first half, with the head coach noting Penn State won most or all of those opportunities. That changed in the final 20 minutes.
“We played with more energy, more toughness, more physicality, which you have to do,” Gard said. “This league isn’t for the weak-minded.”
Wisconsin fans become Michigan fans ... for a day
Michigan takes on Maryland on Sunday afternoon. A Wolverines win would give the Badgers a half-game lead over the Terps for fourth place in the conference and that critical double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.