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Wisconsin men’s basketball: Badgers lose tight battle with Wake Forest in ACC/Big Ten Challenge

A back and forth contest went against the Badgers Tuesday evening.

After a strong week in the Bahamas Wisconsin’s men's basketball team returned to the Kohl Center Tuesday night to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Wake Forest entered the game 6-1 on the season but had played a very weak schedule, so this felt like a vital non-conference matchup for both sides to get a quality win. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, the Badgers came out on the wrong side of the contest after looking like a somewhat different team then they had all of last week.

On the positive side, Wisconsin’s offense looked much better than it has most of the 2022 season with consistent scoring outside of a couple of prolonged stretches. Chucky Hepburn put together his best outing of the season by scoring a team-high 23 points. Most of those points came from deep as Hepburn knocked down 6 three-pointers in the contest. That gives Hepburn back-to-back double-digit performances which is a welcome sight after a slow start for him earlier in the year. Hepburn also knocked down an impressive buzzer-beater at the end of the 1st half to give Wisconsin a spark.

Additionally, Wisconsin also got another strong performance from Tyler Wahl who scored a season-high 17 points in the contest. Steven Crowl was also a big contributor as he put in 15 points while also grabbing 7 rebounds for the Badgers. Lastly, Connor Essegian continued his strong run of play as he scored 12 points while playing 23 minutes. It appears despite being the 6th man that Essegian is starting to get more minutes than Jordan Davis who played just 14 minutes in the contest.

On the negative side, Wisconsin’s defense was shaky all game long. One would think that getting 55 points from the big three for Wisconsin and another 12 from Essegian would be enough to win but that was not the case as the Badgers struggled to defend Wake Forest, especially at the guard spots. Tyree Appleby was the star of the night as he scored 32 points, including an impressive 11-point run of his own.

In the end, Wisconsin gave up 78 points which is far higher than their season average. Coming into the contest Wisconsin was averaging just 54 points per game allowed. That mark was likely not sustainable, but it was a surprise to see Wisconsin struggle so much defensively after playing three really great defensive games last week.

All in all, this was a game where there were plenty of positives and negatives. Wisconsin played their best offensive game of the year and got major contributions from their top players in Wahl, Hepburn, and Crowl. However, the defense was not up to what we have seen from the Badgers this year. If Wisconsin can find consistency on both ends of the court they’ll be a tough team to beat, but off nights like this on one end or the other will make things harder as the competition gets harder and harder over the next couple of weeks.

Wisconsin will be back in action Saturday as they take on Marquette before two Big Ten conference games on December 6th and December 11th (Maryland & Iowa).