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Wisconsin men’s basketball: Penn State recap, part III

The Badgers hang on and advance after beating the Nittany Lions by one on Thursday night.

Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Coming in to the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 6 seed, the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team (16-10 overall, 10-10 B1G) were able to rest before their first game in Indianapolis against Penn State on Thursday evening.

The No. 11 seeded Nittany Lions were able to take down Nebraska, after a furious comeback, in the first round of games on Wednesday to earn a meeting with the Badgers.

During the regular season the two teams split their back-to-back games in the middle of the season, but in the rubber match it was the Badgers who would hold on with a narrow win, 75-74, and get the right to face the Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday night in the quarterfinals.

Early in the game the pace definitely favored Penn State, but the two teams were all knotted up at five points apiece at the first media timeout as Greg Gard pulled Nate Reuvers in favor of Micah Potter within the first two minutes.

Following that break in the action, Penn State was able to continue to dictate tempo and get to the rim on the Wisconsin defense to take a 16-12 lead into the second media timeout with just over 11 minutes remaining in the first half.

The Nittany Lions were able to build on their lead to take a 24-16 advantage into the next media timeout, as Jamari Wheeler was hot from three-point range, and the Badgers struggled to make their shots on the other end.

A 12-2 run by Wisconsin would propel them into the lead with 3:37 left in the first half, as Penn State had four players with two fouls and the Badgers took advantage at the free throw line.

Wisconsin would close the half extremely strong to take a 10 point lead into the half behind some great three-point shooting, including two from Nate Reuvers.

Wisconsin’s hot shooting would carry over to the second half. While Penn State failed to score for two straight minutes, Brad Davison made back-to-back threes to extend the Badger’s advantage to 16 at the first media timeout of the second half.

Penn State would be able cut into the deficit slightly, but Aleem Ford was having none of it. The senior forward connected on two huge threes to push the score to 59-42 with 13 minutes remaining.

The Nittany Lions would trim the score to 68-57 after a seven minute run over the course of only a minute, but Jonathan Davis would stop the run with a some talented plays on both ends of the court for the time being.

Penn State finished strong and made things way too tight, as the Badgers would barely hang on to win by a single point after holding an 18-point lead with under eight minutes to play.

Notable stat lines:

  • Aleem Ford —> 17 points (6-of-7 from the floor), two rebounds
  • Brad Davison —> 15 points (3-of-7 from the floor), two rebounds, five assists
  • Jonathan Davis —> 10 points (4-of-8 from the floor), two rebounds
  • Sam Sessoms (PSU) —> 18 points (7-of-11 from the floor), three assists

Three things that stood out:

No. 1: Momentum swing + threes

Penn State held an eight point lead with just under seven minutes remaining in the first half. At that point Wisconsin was in the middle of a field goal drought of over three minutes, and things were looking fairly bleak for the Badgers.

Wisconsin rallied in a hurry. To close out the first half Wisconsin made seven of their last eight shot attempts and finished on a 18-3 run to completely flip the game. During that seven minute span the Badgers made five of their six first half three pointers, and distanced themselves from the Nittany Lions.

That quick scoring burst proved to ignite the Badgers the rest of the way, as Wisconsin would hold off Penn State, who would execute a huge run of their own to claw their way back into the game in the second half and make things remarkably uncomfortable over the final few minutes.

For the game, Wisconsin finished shooting over 50% from deep and if it wasn’t for the huge run in the middle of the game the final score would have been very different.

No. 2: Free throws

Wisconsin was able to take advantage of Penn State’s foul trouble, by getting into the double-bonus for a large portion of the first half. Not only did the Badgers get to the line however. They also converted.

As a team they were a perfect 11-of-11 from the charity stripe, and that helped them keep afloat for multiple minutes in the first stanza as they struggled to make shot from the floor.

In the second half the Badgers were not nearly as active at the free throw line outside of a pair of uncharacteristic misses by D’Mitrik Trice. However, in the first half Penn State was thoroughly outplaying Wisconsin for the early part of the game, and it was the free throw line that kept them in the game.

No. 3: Closeout

The final handful of minutes were brutal.

Everything that had been clicking for the Badgers completely went out the window. Penn State was once again able to dictate tempo and scored at will while driving to the hoop on the Wisconsin defense. On offense the Badgers went away from what was working and stalled on offense until heaving up a shot attempt with seconds remaining.

The result was a 17-2 run over the final five minutes of the game for Penn State, and a two and a half minute scoring drought to close out the game for the Badgers.

Wisconsin is extremely lucky to have held on to win the game, and the struggles at the end of big games continues to be a problem for the Badgers. With a potentially tight contest against Iowa upcoming, a full 40-minute game is imperative if they want to advance to Saturday.

Up next: Wisconsin will match up with Iowa on Friday night. Tip-time is scheduled to be around 8 p.m. CST, and the game will be aired on BTN.