INDIANAPOLIS — That a senior guard would lead the Wisconsin men’s basketball team in its Big Ten tournament-opening game against Indiana is not surprising.
But the name might raise a few eyebrows.
With Jordan Taylor in a funk, Rob Wilson came off the bench to deliver blow after blow to the Hoosiers, scoring 30 points on 11 of 16 shooting, including 7 of 10 from behind the perimeter in the 79-71 win.
Wilson’s 30 points more than doubles his previous career-high scoring mark (13 points) and is the highest single-game point total any Badger has produced all season. Prior to Friday, he averaged just 3.1 points per game.
His numbers caused such a stir that his name began trending worldwide on Twitter during the second half.
“Needless to say, we had a player in the zone,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said, who became the program’s all-time winningest head coach with the win. “His teammates found him, he worked hard to get open. I think Rob Wilson is the story of the game, as far as our offense goes.”
The performance lifted the Badgers, who shot well collectively (48.3 percent from the field and 50 from behind the arc) and had four players score in double digits but were slowed somewhat by an off day from Taylor.
Before Friday afternoon, Wilson had never made more than a trio of three-pointers in one game while at UW.
“The way the ball felt like it was going in today, I don’t remember that feeling in a long time,” Wilson said, who logged 32 minutes on the floor against the Hoosiers.
Taylor finished the afternoon with 12 points on 3-of-12 shooting from the field and four assists. But after the win — the first of his and Wilson’s career at the Big Ten tournament — Taylor couldn’t help but beam.
“I’m so happy, I feel like I had 30 because the most important thing [is], we got the win,” he said.
As novel as the feeling felt for Wilson, the Ohio native entered Friday’s quarterfinal game in the midst of perhaps his finest stretch as a Badger reserve. Over the final four games of the regular season he scored 32 points, had hit 12 of 25 field goals and had only turned the ball over once.
According to Indiana head coach Tom Crean, the Hoosiers, in preparation for Friday’s game, identified Wilson as Wisconsin’s most improved player since the two teams last met in late January.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean they expected a 30-point performance.
“As we told our team, he was the most improved player on their team since the first time we played them,” Crean said. “He really brought a different dose of energy to their team when he was in the game and to shoot it the way he did today — in the last five games he had hit seven threes and today he hit seven threes.”
Wilson stayed consistent from the arc all afternoon, hitting his first two attempts from downtown between the 15 and 13-minute mark in the first half. And his five second half threes all seemed to come in critical moments as the Hoosiers would repeatedly regain momentum and threaten to retake the lead.
Indiana came within four points of Wisconsin with just over 11 minutes in the game, but Wilson hit back-to-back three-pointers over a two-minute span to give the Badgers a seven-point lead.
Later, with under four minutes remaining, the Hoosiers held possession facing a three-point deficit. Indiana’s Derek Elston drove to the rim to pull within one, but Wilson arrived in front of him just in time to draw a charge. Wisconsin regained possession and on the other end, he slipped in a layup between two Hoosier defenders to go up by five.
Then, after an Indiana basket, Wilson lobbed a pass from behind the arc to a wide-open Jared Berggren streaking across the paint, setting up the redshirt junior with an easy two-handed slam to put the score at 69-64 with 1:55 remaining.
“[Wilson] went and set the screen, he just yelled, ‘Read it!’” Berggren said. “And so I read it, Rob came over the top, I ran to the rim, had an open pass, Rob found me.”
The Hoosiers managed to hit a free throw on the ensuing possession, but when the Badgers brought the ball down the court again, it ended in another Wilson three-pointer, further separating the Badgers from the Hoosiers, 72-65, with 35 seconds left.
“You always want to go out with a bang, but it’s that time of when every team in the country steps it up and every player steps it up because it’s tournament time,” Wilson said. “So that’s what I did, stepped up as a senior’s supposed to.”