The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team was able to eek past Illinois State on Wednesday evening to snag win No. 10 of the season. The game represented their final non-conference game currently scheduled after both the Morgan State and George Mason (replacement) games were canceled due to COVID-19 cases.
Let’s dive into a trio of quick takeaways from the non-conference nail biter.
Wisconsin men’s basketball: shorthanded #Badgers withstand Illinois State— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) December 30, 2021
UW wasn’t super sharp on defense, but were able to score plenty in an 89-85 victory over the Redbirds. https://t.co/y8UGOyoCnx pic.twitter.com/tn5wXBojsY
Three things that stood out:
No. 1: Missing pieces
Lorne Bowman, Ben Carlson, Carter Higginbottom, Jahcobi Neath, and Justin Taphorn were all unavailable to play against Illinois State due to health reasons (likely COVID-19).
With a shorthanded bench, Greg Gard had freshmen Chris Hodges and Matthew Mors dress for the first time this year just in case. Additionally, while the five players that were unable to play did not alter the starting rotation, it did force Gard to adjust his rotation once again.
Isaac Lindsey and Carter Gilmore each hit their first three-pointers of the season off the bench in the game, while the starters were pushed to play extended minutes due to limited bench options. Overall, the game was far from a stellar performance for the Badgers, but it was a nice opportunity for the team to shake some rust off before a big game against Purdue next week. Greg Gard noted in postgame that at one point recently the team was practicing 4-on-4 with one of the bodies being a team manager. He hopes to get some more players back in the coming days.
With five players unable to go tonight both Chris Hodges and Matthew Mors are warming up with the team.— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) December 30, 2021
Could be nothing, but this is the first time I have seen them participate since it was announced that they would redshirt. #Badgers pic.twitter.com/xOmS6pK3YI
No. 2: Four-headed attack
Johnny Davis was on his game per usual against Illinois State, but with limited options on the bench, both Chucky Hepburn and Steven Crowl also gave the Badgers a big lift.
The starting trio combined for 37 of the team’s 46 points in the first half while Brad Davison was surprisingly held scoreless. For the game, the combination of Davis/Wahl/Hepburn/Crowl contributed all but 17 of the team’s points in what was an offensive battle.
In the second half, Tyler Wahl did a lot of the heavy lifting with 16 points as Davis struggled to get going. While another 20 point performance by Davis and an 18 point performance by Wahl are notable, especially considering Davis had not played since December 11, the bigger takeaway was the play of Crowl and Hepburn in my eyes.
Crowl and Hepburn were efficient from the floor in the first half and it was a pleasant surprise to see them play more aggressively on the offensive end throughout the game. Johnny Davis has been fantastic this year for the Badgers, but improved play by two of the team’s young pieces was a positive development ahead of Big Ten play for Greg Gard and the staff. Crowl finished the game with a team-high and career-high 21 points on 87.5% shooting, while Hepburn added 13 points and four assists on 55.5% shooting. The duo was a perfect 5-of-5 from three-point range as well. More consistent play by both players on offense would provide a huge boost for the team going forward.
Johnny Davis on his performance tonight pic.twitter.com/Bf7fdeyf2N— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) December 30, 2021
No. 3: Mid-half lapses
After grabbing a 20 points lead with 10:37 left in the first half everything seemed to point to a Wisconsin blowout. The Badgers had the game in firm control and were dominating all phases of the game.
Over the course of the next seven minutes though Illinois State was able to take advantage of some lackluster play on both ends of the court by the Badgers. The Redbirds put together an 11-0 run behind some hot shooting, but Wisconsin’s defensive effort was far from impressive during that stretch. Offensively, the Badgers required a pair of buckets by Johnny Davis to slow down the Redbird barrage, but at one point that 20 point lead was diminished to only five.
In the second half, the Badgers did it again. After a fairly good start to the half, Wisconsin was able to reestablish a large lead. However, Illinois State was able to take advantage of some poor defense and hot shooting to trim the lead all the way down to three points with just over four minutes remaining.
Early in the season, it was the Wisconsin defense that guided them to success, including a Maui Invitational Championship. However, in the past two contests, against far lesser competition, the Badgers have been inconsistent defensively and allowed inferior teams to hang around. Pick ‘n roll defense and the ability to stop the ball has been especially dreadful of late, as Illinois State shot over 50% from the floor. Greg Gard’s bunch will have plenty to clean up on that end of the court following the close win.
Greg Gard’s opening statement following the Illinois State win pic.twitter.com/jb7t5JYLPZ— Matt Belz (@savedbythebelz) December 30, 2021
Up next: The Badgers return to Big Ten play on Monday, January 3 against No. 3 Purdue. Tip time is set for 6 p.m. CT and it will be aired on BTN from West Lafayette, Ind.