The Wisconsin Badgers suffered their first loss of the season, falling short to No. 3 Kansas in a 69-68 overtime thriller in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament semifinals.
One day after winning a close 43-42 contest over the Dayton Flyers, the Badgers overcame a 15-point deficit to force overtime, but junior forward Tyler Wahl’s efforts were not enough to upset the Jayhawks.
The two teams began in a back-and-forth bout, with a Chucky Hepburn three-pointer matching a Gradey Dick three-pointer at the 10:58 mark, tying the game at nine a piece.
However, Kansas slowly pulled away with the lead, going on an 8-0 run to take a 22-12 lead at the 6:42 mark in the first half.
Max Klesmit kept the Badgers afloat with a three-pointer, followed by a jumper minutes later to preserve the Jayhawks lead at 26-17, but Kansas made the last push to end the half, with a last-second Gradey Dick three-pointer providing them a 33-20 lead at halftime.
The Jayhawks had a balanced offensive approach in the first half, as Jalen Wilson led the team with 10 first-half points, while Dick and Kevin McCullar each scored nine a piece.
However, the Badgers played strong defense, limiting Kansas to just 37.5% from the field and 35.3% from three.
But, Kansas consistently got second-chance opportunities, securing eight offensive rebounds, which allowed them to create some separation and go on several runs to pull away with a 13-point lead.
Wisconsin significantly struggled from the field in the first half, as the Badgers shot just 30.8% from the field and 25% from long distance.
The struggles between Chucky Hepburn, Steven Crowl, and Tyler Wahl continued as the trio shot just 4/14 combined in the first half.
While the Badgers committed just three turnovers, they were outrebounded by 11 in the first half, which primarily came on the offensive glass.
Once again, Connor Essegian paced the reserves in minutes, playing in half of the first period.
To begin the second half, Wisconsin had some early offensive momentum, scoring six points in the first three minutes, but Jalen Wilson single-handedly kept the Jayhawks lead at 13 with a three-pointer and a converted three-point play.
Then, Connor Essegian mounted the Badgers' comeback, hitting a stepback three-pointer before knocking down another deep shot following a Dajuan Harris offensive foul to cut the lead to 41-33.
After cutting well in the first half for some baskets, Essegian showcased his primary skill, shooting, to revitalize Wisconsin’s offense and provided the necessary spark to make the game closer.
Following a Jalen Wilson layup, the Badgers went on a 7-0 run, capped by a Carter Gilmore layup off his own miss to bring Wisconsin to just a three-point deficit at 43-40.
While the Badgers have been stout defensively this season, they have found themselves in foul trouble on several occasions, and that was a problem in the second half as Tyler Wahl’s foul at the 10:21 mark put the Jayhawks in the bonus for the remainder of the period.
KJ Adams Jr. capitalized on the opportunity, sinking in both of his free throws, but, once again, Connor Essegian nailed a three-pointer to provide Wisconsin a spark offensively.
Essegian wasn’t done there, as he hit a short jumper two possessions later that placed Wisconsin within a point at 46-45.
At that point, Essegian had scored 11 of Wisconsin’s 25 second-half points, shooting 4/5 during the stretch.
Then, following yet another Jalen Wilson layup, Max Klesmit hit a clutch three-pointer to tie the game at 48 for the first time since the opening minutes.
Jalen Wilson caught fire, scoring nine consecutive points for Kansas, while shooting 3/4 during that stretch, but Wisconsin was able to stay leveled, keeping the score at 54-52 following Wilson’s final basket at the 5:41 mark of the second half.
Kansas slowly began to pull away again as it was Kevin McCullar’s turn to catch fire, as the Texas Tech transfer scored six consecutive points to give Kansas a 60-52 lead at the 3:40 mark, even blocking a shot during that stretch.
But, Tyler Wahl began going to work, single-handedly bringing Wisconsin back with four consecutive layups, including an and-1 opportunity that gave Wisconsin its first lead since early in the matchup at 61-60.
Following a miss from Kevin McCullar, Connor Essegian was fouled with 23 seconds remaining, and calmly sank both free throws to provide Wisconsin with a three-point lead at 63-60.
However, drama ensued as Zach Clemence followed up his missed three-pointer with an offensive rebound, kicking it out to McCullar for the game-tying three with 12 seconds remaining.
Chucky Hepburn, determined to give Wisconsin the win, attempted a game-winning shot, but failed to connect, sending the game to overtime.
Wahl and Essegian were Wisconsin’s primary scorers in the second half, scoring 27 of Wisconsin’s 43 points on 8/13 shooting.
As a team, the Badgers shot 48.3% from the field and 44.4% from three in the second half, which propelled their comeback to force a third period after being down 15 points at one point in the game.
Essegian played 16 of Wisconsin’s 20 second-half minutes, with Jordan Davis taking a backseat in the starting lineup, and it was a much-needed transition offensively.
For Kansas, Jalen Wilson dominated the second half, scoring 17 of the team’s 30 second-half points, while Kevin McCullar scored nine points on his own.
Combined, the duo shot 9/17 from the field, but the remainder of the team shot just 1/7 from the field, which resulted in a weaker offensive performance, hence the tie at 63 to end the half.
After seven shot attempts in the first half, Gradey Dick, who was primarily guarded by Max Klesmit, only attempted one shot for the remainder of the game, essentially serving as a non-factor for Kansas.
In overtime, Tyler Wahl was the only scorer for Wisconsin, making two of five shots for five points, while Chucky Hepburn and Steven Crowl each had a miss of their own.
The two teams went back and forth and Wahl had even put Wisconsin on top by one with a layup with 20 seconds remaining.
However, Bobby Pettiford cleaned up a Zach Clemente missed three-pointer, sneaking past Connor Essegian and scoring a crafty reverse layup for the 69-68 win.
Despite the higher score, defense was the story of the game as both teams shot 38.7% from the field and around 31% from deep.
Overall, Kansas outrebounded Wisconsin by 15 and secured eight more offensive rebounds, which played a significant role in their victory, but it was a hard-fought game by a gritty Badgers team that will now face USC tomorrow in the third-place game for the Battle 4 Atlantis.