Indiana hadn’t won in Madison in 10 consecutive meetings. Against a Wisconsin team rolling after rediscovering the swagger consistently present on its home court, that statistic continued to grow Thursday night.
The No. 25 Badgers (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten) won their fifth-consecutive game after overcoming a weak first-half shooting effort in a 57-50 win over the No. 16 Hoosiers (16-5, 4-5 Big Ten). Halfway through the Big Ten season, the victory moves Wisconsin into fourth place in the conference standings, while Indiana falls to seventh.
After both teams took the court with clear defensive energy, the Badgers shot just 10 for 26 (38.5 percent) from the floor in the first half and trailed at halftime 27-25. Wisconsin also made just 3-of-7 (42.9 percent) free throws in the first half, a stunning total for a team that entered the night fifth in the Big Ten with a 71.2 percentage from the charity stripe.
Having scored at least 15 points in his last three games, point guard Jordan Taylor scored eight in the first half to lead Wisconsin into the break. However, he finished with just 10 points, as well as five rebounds and two assists, on 5-of-14 shooting. Guard Ben Brust led the Badgers with 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range. Forward Ryan Evans finished with 12 points and also neared a double-double with nine rebounds.
All together, the collective effort was necessary to turn away an Indiana team that has now lost four of its last five games.
“This team has a lot of fight in them,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “As long as they’re doing that, playing hard, you can always remind me later what the standings are.”
Trailing by two points entering halftime, the Badgers made the second half a grind-it-out affair. Indiana’s biggest lead of six points came with 10:24 remaining in the first half, and the Hoosiers led by no more then five in the second half. After Jared Berggren nailed a jumper at the 17:15 mark, Wisconsin evened the score at 29-29.
Following a trio of missed shots by the Badgers, the Hoosiers opened up that five-point lead with 14:29 remaining.
“It was good that we were able to stay close in the first half without shooting the ball particularly well,” Brust said.
After a layup by Taylor one minute later, Indiana guard Jordan Hulls nailed a jumper to bring Indiana ahead 36-31. Hulls finished with nine points and led the Hoosiers with six rebounds. Forward Christian Watford and Verdell Jones III each scored 12 points for Indiana.
But after that jumper by Hulls, the Badgers built a 10-5 run over the next five minutes that had them tied at 41-41 with 8:55 remaining. Brust, who had just three points from a single 3-point attempt in the first half, sunk several clutch treys to keep UW afloat and ensure the 17,230 fans at the Kohl Center maintained the electric atmosphere.
“Obviously, I didn’t shoot the ball that great,” Taylor said. “I’m not too worried about that; anytime you cannot shoot the ball well and go out and get a win against a really good team, it’s always fun.”
Indiana only led once more for the duration of the game, following a three-pointer from Watford at the 5:39 mark that put the Hoosiers ahead 46-45.
After shooting so poorly from the foul line in the first half, Wisconsin was a perfect 12-for-12 in the second. Evans was critical in that regard, sinking six free throws in the final five minutes.
Along with forward Mike Bruesewitz, who finished with 10 points and four rebounds, Evans also helped the Badgers wrap up the victory with clutch late-game rebounding. After Brust missed a 3-pointer with the Badgers leading 51-50 at the 1:40 mark, Evans managed to get a finger on the ball before Brust corralled it himself.
Following a timeout, Brust missed another three-pointer that Evans rebounded and turned into two foul shots. After Indiana failed to convert on the other end, Taylor attempted a three that rimmed out, and Bruesewitz grabbed the ball with 22 seconds remaining and Wisconsin leading 53-50. Two free throws later, the Badgers had a comfortable five-point lead with just 15 seconds remaining.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and we had to scrap to the end,” Berggren said. “The mindset with shooting is the next one’s going to go down; you always have to keep the confidence and know that things are going to turn around.”