The Wisconsin Badgers fell short to the No. 5 Purdue Boilermakers in a 63-61 defeat, marking another close defeat in a highly-contested battle that went down to the final shot.
After a strong performance for the majority of the game, the Badgers just weren’t able to hit a field goal over the final 3:30, although they played well defensively during the stretch, ultimately falling one basket short of a different outcome.
Wisconsin struggled to contain Zach Edey early, as he earned six quick free throws, although the Purdue center hit just one of those attempts.
As a result, the game remained hand-in-hand over the early part of the game, and that stretched over the majority of the first half, as the Badgers were able to contain the Purdue offense, while scoring just enough to keep up.
The Boilermakers slowly slipped away as the Badgers committed some quick turnovers when their bench hit the court, but eight points from Isaac Lindsey on 3/3 shooting toward the end of the half propelled the Badgers to within two, and they ended up down 31-27 at halftime.
The Badgers impressed to begin the second half, as Max Klesmit scored the team’s first five points, before a Connor Essegian three-pointer provided Wisconsin with its first lead at 35-34 since 12:54 in the first half.
Then, on consecutive drives following Essegian’s three, Klesmit drained another triple before Chucky Hepburn followed up the latter’s shot with a three from the same spot, providing Wisconsin with a five-point lead: its biggest of the game.
However, when Wisconsin scored, Purdue was able to counter, keeping the game within striking distance, led by Edey and freshman guard Fletcher Loyer.
Purdue re-took the lead at the 8:59 mark when Ethan Morton drilled a three-pointer, giving them the 50-48 advantage, but Max Klesmit had other ideas, driving for a layup and then nailing a three on the ensuing possession, which gave the Badgers a 53-52 lead.
Klesmit scored once again at the 3:30 mark on a driving layup, giving Wisconsin a 57-56 lead on what would be their final field goal of regulation.
From there, Wisconsin earned some solid looks, but couldn’t hit some tough jumpers, while Purdue crept to a three-point lead with 21 seconds left, and they didn’t let go from there, fouling before the Badgers could get shots up to ultimately end with a 63-61 win.
Wisconsin had a solid look with 28 seconds left as Max Klesmit earned the game-winner shot, driving for a layup and receiving contact, but ultimately missing, with the Boilermakers getting the rebound during the ensuing skirmish.
The Badgers fought hard in this battle, remaining close despite a clear size disadvantage, and playing a top team to the final whistle.
They earned a spark from a different player on Thursday, as Max Klesmit had the hot hand with 19 points on 7/11 shooting, hence why he received the final shot opportunity.
Klesmit worked in a variety of ways offensively, hitting key three-pointers, but showcasing a necessary level of aggressiveness inside the paint as well that hasn’t always been there at the guard position.
Chucky Hepburn, who sustained what appeared to be an ankle injury on Sunday against Michigan, suited up and played 34 minutes, scoring 13 points on 5/12 shooting.
Hepburn’s impact was felt early on, as he himself drove with aggressiveness to the basket on a drive, which hasn’t been his M.O. this year, while also hitting some tough midrange jumpers.
However, at the end of the game, the sophomore guard took multiple deep fadeaways from the corner that weren’t high-percentage shots, which cost the Badgers a few possessions.
Head coach Greg Gard defended his point guard’s decision-making after the game, expressing his belief that Hepburn’s shot selection was solid toward the end, to the contrary.
“Chucky’s [shot selection] was good,” Gard said. “I mean, you had like six possessions in five minutes according to the log I’ve got here. Some of them were in a shot-clock situation. I thought Chucky was a good one. He’s hit that shot big side dribble before.”
Defensively, the Badgers had a fairly strong performance, given the circumstances. While Zach Edey had 17 points and 19 rebounds off 7/9 shooting, the Badgers allowed just 4/19 of Purdue’s three-pointers to fall, limiting their entire offensive presence.
But, Purdue did get some wide-open looks from three for solid three-point shooters; shots just weren’t falling for them there, while Wisconsin was able to consistently find the three-ball offensively.
Despite the percentages, Purdue head coach Matt Painter was pleased with the majority of looks that the Boilermakers saw from distance, expressing confidence in his players’ ability to shoot.
“I thought we had a couple early that was forced. I thought [Brandon] Newman’s, right in front of their bench, was forced to start the game. Outside of that, I liked our shots,” Painter said. And, I know people that root for us think I’m crazy when I say it all the time. But when you have guys that can shoot, man, you got to believe in them. And you got to believe in them on bad nights.”
Offensively, the Badgers relied on their advantage: the three-ball, nailing 10/24 from beyond the arc with an understanding that Zach Edey was going to take away paint opportunities.
However, the Badgers could’ve benefitted with an increased level of aggression, as they didn’t see the free throw line until late in the game, with the bigs edging towards finesse shots instead of trying to draw fouls down low.
Tyler Wahl had a 2/11 night where his confidence seemed shaken after a couple of tough looks against Zach Edey, passing up floaters and shots within the paint toward the end of the game, while shying away from contact at times with his shot selection.
But, Edey’s presence cannot be understated, as the Purdue big clearly impacted the game, specifically with Wahl’s shots.
Gard acknowledged the impact that Edey had with disrupting Wahl’s shot selection, given that a portion of the forward’s game, post-ups and close shots, were taken away with the center’s presence.
“Between getting double-teamed or having [Zach Edey] on him, so at 7’4, 7’5, whatever, [it’s] hard to get to back downs and to get to places where he’s efficient from. And I know one for nine from two, so I’ll look for that,” Gard said. “I’ll look at that and dissect that in terms of what shots he shouldn’t take. But that’s a tough guy to have to score over the top of, to put it mildly.”
Matt Painter confirmed postgame that the Boilermakers looked to specifically take away Wahl by matching him up with Zach Edey.
“I thought our defense was pretty good. We liked our matchup with Zach on Tyler Wahl and we didn’t have to give too much help there,” Painter said.
It was a good gameplan because the Badgers’ bigs combined to shoot 3/16 from the field, with the paint being essentially taken away, with only 18 of Wisconsin’s 61 points coming from the paint.
Now, Wisconsin ends their season with a road matchup against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who upset the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on a buzzer-beater Thursday, and could provide to be a tough game for the Badgers.