The Badgers have always been known as a team with a slow-paced offense and a strong defense, and they looked the part on Wednesday.
The game wasn’t pretty, and neither team could hit a three, but good defense and enough offense were enough.
The team knew it was a must-win game to keep their tournament hopes alive.
And they showed up.
In the second half, their defense shined and they held the highest-scoring team in the Big Ten to just 52 points.
Offensively, however, one player stood out again: Connor Essegian.
Essegian has been the biggest highlight of the season for the Badgers. Not only is he a proven sharp-shooter who can hit a clutch three at any moment, but he brings an abundance of energy into any stadium he walks into.
Essegian, the three-star recruit out of Indiana, wasn’t necessarily expected to play a starting role this season. He was projected to come off the bench and provide offensive stability when needed. However, he has proven this wrong and turned into a walking highlight reel.
He’s averaging 11.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game while shooting 41.4% from the field this year. He’s also shooting 39.7% from three and 86.4% from the free-throw line.
He continued his strong season with 17 points and 5 rebounds in the win on Wednesday night.
Following the losses of Johnny Davis and Brad Davison after last season, it was clear the Badgers needed new players to maintain a high level of scoring. Who was going to be that player to step up and score points?
Many predicted Chucky Hepburn and Tyler Wahl to be those stars. Others predicted a breakout season from Jordan Davis or even the transfer Max Klesmit.
However, very few saw Connor Essegian stepping in so soon and essentially taking the role that Davison played the last 5 seasons for the Badgers.
Brad Davison averaged 14.1 points and 4 rebounds per game while shooting 38.4% from the field as a 5th-year senior. Although Essegian isn’t remotely close to the same player Davison was last season, it does make one wonder whether Essegian could eventually pass Davison and become one of the all-time Badger greats.
As a freshman, Sam Dekker averaged 9.6 points per game while shooting 39.1% from three.
Michael Finley averaged 12.3 points and 5 rebounds per game as a freshman as well.
Davison as a freshman? 12.1 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.
Essegian has found himself in great company with other previous Badger basketball stars.
Badgers fans should be thrilled about the potential Essegian has.
He has the skill set to develop into a star player in the Big Ten, and if he can improve his ability to create his own shot and become a better defender, then potentially a star player in the entire country.
He’s already proven his ability to score, putting up 13+ points in 13 games this season.
And he’s got the same swagger that Davison carried himself with, throwing up celebrations after a big shot that ignite the Kohl Center crowd and throw the student section into a frenzy.
Now, can he remain consistent and help push this team into the postseason?
That remains to be seen.
The Badgers currently sit on the bubble and will need to finish the season strong in order to confirm their spot in the tourney.
But with consistent play from their stars Hepburn, Wahl, Crowl, and now Essegian, then maybe they could find themselves breaking hearts and sending teams packing in the NCAA Tournament come March.