The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 63-60 in a conference showdown to extend their winning streak to five games.
The Badgers did so without forward Tyler Wahl for the second half, who appeared to injure his foot/ankle in the first half.
Steven Crowl stepped up in his absence for the second straight game, scoring 17 points on 8/13 shooting.
In the first half, Chucky Hepburn took control for the Badgers, scoring 11 points, while knocking down all three of his three-pointers.
He received help from Connor Essegian, who put in eight of his own on 3/4 shooting in just 11 first-half minutes.
Carter Gilmore saw a significant increase in playing time, earning a +1 plus-minus in his 13 first-half minutes, while Markus Illver saw six minutes of action as well in the early period.
Despite losing Wahl, the Badgers defended the paint well as forwards Jamison Battle and Dawson Garcia combined for 10 points on 4/17 shooting in the first half.
However, my player to watch for the game was Minnesota guard Ta’lon Cooper, who kept the Gophers to within a six-point deficit with seven points on 3/5 shooting in the opening half.
Wisconsin shot 46.4% from the field and 45.5% from three, while Minnesota shot just 39.3% from the field and 25% from three. Still, the Gophers were within six at the end of the first half, even with two more turnovers.
After an early five-point Wisconsin run, followed by a six-point Minnesota run, both sides remained even until the final minutes, when the Badgers capped the half with an 8-0 run to lead 32-26.
The Badgers struggled from the field in the second half, shooting just 40.7% from the field and 33.3% from three, while the Gophers shot 48.1% from inside the arc and 50% on distance shots.
But, Steven Crowl turned up his play in the absence of Tyler Wahl, scoring 13 of his 17 points on 6/9 efficiency, while Jordan Davis connected on all three of his second-half shots for seven points.
The Badgers primarily utilized Chucky Hepburn, Steven Crowl, Max Klesmit, Jordan Davis, and Carter Gilmore as their five on the court in the second-half, with Gilmore earning a season-high 30 minutes.
Wisconsin’s guards significantly struggled in the second half, as Hepburn, Klesmit, and Connor Essegian combined to shoot 2/13 in the final period.
Minnesota’s forwards woke up in the second half as Jamison Battle and Dawson Garcia combined for 17 of Minnesota’s 34 second-half points on 6/11 shooting, while Ta’lon Cooper added ten points of his own.
However, Wisconsin remained strong defensively, forcing 12 turnovers, which included four from Cooper and Battle a piece.
The Badgers held a steady lead to begin the second half, with three Connor Essegian free throws providing Wisconsin a 12-point lead at the 12:21 mark.
But, Minnesota capitalized on mistakes, leading a 11-0 run over the next three minutes to cut the Gophers deficit to 1 with 8:34 remaining.
From there, both offenses were remotely cold, although Wisconsin slowly distanced itself, as two Chucky Hepburn free throws provided a 61-54 lead at the 3:30 mark.
But, once again, Minnesota crept back into the game, with a Ta’lon Cooper layup cutting the lead to 63-60 with 27 seconds left.
Then came an ugly sequence to end the game.
Steven Crowl’s pass was stolen by Jaden Henley, giving Minnesota the chance to tie, but the latter turned the ball over himself, forcing the Gophers to foul.
Crowl missed the 1-and-1, once again providing Minnesota an opportunity to tie, but Chucky Hepburn came in with a clutch steal at the last second to win the game for a Wisconsin.
Hepburn had a strong finish, scoring or assisting on Wisconsin’s last six points, while securing the game-winning steal.
With the win, Wisconsin improves to 11-2 and 3-0 in conference play, with Illinois up next this weekend for the Badgers.