With Frank Kaminsky already out with concussion-like symptoms and Traevon Jackson knocked out with a second-half ankle injury, No. 4 Wisconsin was unable to withstand the emotional second-half spark provided by Rutgers seniors Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack.
The result was a season-defining 67-62 win for Rutgers -- its first-ever over a top-five team -- and a loss Wisconsin would love to forget about. With the loss, the Badgers (15-2, 3-1) fell into a tie for first place atop the Big Ten standings, while Rutgers improved to 10-7 by evening up their conference record at 2-2.
And yet, the Badgers were still within striking distance down the stretch. With just two starters on the floor for most of the final few minutes, UW scored on four of its last five possessions to cut a seven-point deficit down to 64-62 on a deep Bronson Koenig three-pointer.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin did not have enough juice to correct what had gone wrong in the previous 19 minutes of the second half, after carrying a 12-point lead into the break.
No defensive presence inside
Ultimately, what Wisconsin missed most with Kaminsky out was someone to protect the rim. Once Rutgers figured out that getting a step toward the paint usually resulted in an uncontested layup or dunk, head coach Eddie Jordan seized the moment. His main weapon was 6'9" Kadeem Jack.
Jack had a field day going to the rack. It didn't matter who was guarding him -- Duje Dukan, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes or Vitto Brown. He was too big in the post and showed off a nice touch around the rim. Jack also handled the ball well enough to get by his man on the perimeter. He finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including a few of his trademark rim-rattling dunks to spark his teammates. He was the catalyst for Rutgers' 44-point second half.
Free throw shooting
Just when Rutgers had momentum and seemed to have Wisconsin on its heels, freshman Shaquille Doorson fouled Hayes over the back to put Wisconsin in the bonus with over 10 minutes left to play. But Hayes and Gasser proceeded to miss the front ends of bonus of 1-and-1 opportunities on back to back possessions. That left four points on the table in what ended up as a one-possession game at the end.
For the day, the Badgers shot only 9-for-16 from the charity stripe. Rutgers outscored Wisconsin by three on freebies, hitting 12-of-15 free throws overall.
Traevon Jackson exits with injury
Pick your poison -- was it bad offense or bad defense that ruined the day for the Badgers? Bo Ryan mentioned all the open looks that didn't go down for Wisconsin, but the common theme was that those were jumpers. When Jackson hurt his foot landing after a Myles Mack three-pointer with 12 minutes left, Wisconsin lost one of the only players who could overpower his defender and get a high percentage look driving to the hoop.
How much he was missed on the defensive end is hard to gauge. But there is no doubt Wisconsin looked a bit frazzled for about a 10-minute stretch after Jackson exited the game. His senior leadership could have possbily broken up the nearly seven-minute long field goal drought that plagued the Badgers, part of which came with Josh Gasser on the bench as well with four fouls.
Myles Mack given too much room to operate
Jack wasn't even the leading scorer in the game ... that honor goes to Mack, who finished with 21 points. His blistering three-point shooting to start the second half awoke the home crowd and gave Rutgers the momentum it needed to believe the Scarlet Knights could win the game.
Mack hit his first four threes after halftime, the last one tying the game at 46. He hit two free throws five minutes later to give Rutgers its first lead of the game, one it would not relinquish.
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.