The Wisconsin Badgers suffered an unfortunate 87-79 overtime loss to the Michigan Wolverines, once again failing to win consecutive games, and dropping to 16-12 on the season with their playoff hopes in limbo currently.
However, all wasn’t bad, as freshman guard Connor Essegian continued to turn eyes, scoring a team-high 24 points, and making the go-ahead shot in regulation before Hunter Dickinson’s wild three.
In the strong performance, Essegian edged his way into Wisconsin’s record books, breaking Brad Davison’s record for the most three-pointers by a freshman, hitting his 61st three of the season against the Wolverines.
The performance was much more than just etching his name in the record books, as the freshman guard was able to complete the feat in Ann Arbor, where he had several family members in attendance.
I never could have expected anything like this, you know, coming my freshman year. I mean, I’ve talked about it before, I wasn’t even sure if I’d be playing much at all, you know, this year,” Essegian said. “And so to be in this position to, you know, have my name [in] a record book, you know, this year early in my career is extremely humbling and blessing opportunity and moment for me.”
Coincidentally, the Wolverines were also Essegian’s favorite team growing up, as he attended games in Ann Arbor, making the moment even more memorable.
I would love to win. That was number one going in there. But to do that in front of all my family, family and a bunch of friends there, too, to do it in that arena that I’ve been growing up watching,” Essegian said. “I wouldn’t have minded it here in the Kohl Center, too. At home, I’d say the only way it could have been better, but it was a really cool experience.”
The familiar faces were definitely a different experience for the freshman, who reminisced on the hard work he’s put in to earn achievements, with everything now coming full-circle.
“It was pretty cool. To be able to see people I haven’t seen in months and even years to do it. For them to be watching something, the record, and just out there watching me just do what I love at the level that I’ve been working hard, so hard to get for my whole life, that was really cool, too, to see people that I love there, supporting and talking about yourself.”
Over the past four games, Essegian hasn’t seen much success from distance, shooting just 5/29 from three, but has still found ways to be efficient and make an offensive impact.
That was clearly on display during his 24-point display against Michigan, of which only six came off threes, showcasing the improvements that Essegian has made in his game.
“I feel like that’s been a big part I’ve been working on a lot, is trying to expand my game with the defenses trying to get me off the line and limit my three-point opportunities,” Essegian said.
What’s contributed to the offensive improvements aside from Essegian’s innate confidence? The trust that head coach Greg Gard and have instilled in the freshman, which has carried throughout the season.
“It’s a really good feeling when you got people in the locker room that trust you as much as a lot of these guys have trusted me so far, but that goes both ways,” said Essegian. “I trust those guys and coaches just as much.”
Gard has been of significant criticism over the season due to the inconsistencies that the Badgers have displayed, but a certain positive that has clearly shined this year? The way he coaches his players.
Gard has expressed a style of accountability, but also pure confidence in his players, which Essegian appreciates from his head coach.
“He holds you accountable. That’s something that I feel like he has a healthy balance of. Says the right words, uses the right tone,” Essegian said. “I like it when coaches are putting pressure on me, you know, to get something done or to get better. And so he understands that. He says he understands that. So [the coaches] done a good job of pressuring me and giving me challenges and what to try and accomplish.”
It may not be a record-breaking night, but Essegian will certainly be of importance on Thursday when the Badgers face off against the Purdue Boilermakers, especially if fellow guard Chucky Hepburn is unable to play with his lower-body injury.
The freshman guard seems ready for the challenge, and his shooting ability will be a valuable asset against a strong offensive team in Purdue.