With the clock crawling closer to zero, the three-point heaves became a sign of desperation as the Wisconsin men’s basketball team watched a nine-point lead evaporate in four minutes early in the second half.
Not a single one of the No. 17 Badgers’ 12 shots from beyond the arc in the second half found the bottom of the net, and those shooting woes cost UW dearly in a 69-56 loss to Purdue (14-15, 7-9 Big Ten) on Senior Day at the Kohl Center.
In a defeat that crushed Wisconsin’s (20-9, 11-5) Big Ten title hopes, its 21.4 percent conversion rate on three-point tries stood as the clearest mark of the Badgers’ offensive inefficiency in the second half.
Though Wisconsin found itself searching for any kind of scoring in the second half, head coach Bo Ryan said the ineffectiveness from outside had his squad fighting an uphill battle.
“I saw that 0-for-12 [in the second half] — I knew we had missed a bunch, I didn’t know we had missed that many,” Ryan said. “I think if you can hit a couple of those, while they were making their run and we keep it right there, it helps our guys. But when we got behind and tried to play from behind, that’s a little bit tougher for our guys.”
UW failed to hit another trey after Ben Brust sank one with 6:59 remaining in the first half, finishing the game on an ice-cold 0-for-18 stretch from beyond the arc.
For Purdue head coach Matt Painter, keeping the Badgers uncomfortable from the outside started with shutting down Wisconsin’s two most dangerous deep threats — Ben Brust and Sam Dekker. Brust missed his fair share of open looks, but the sharpshooter also fired off a few contested tries and closed the game 2-of-8 from three-point range.
Dekker, who leads the team with a 44.8 clip from deep, made two of his first three tries but missed his two second-half attempts.
“We really talked about Dekker and Brust and trying to get them out of rhythm,” Painter said. “We know Jared Berggren can make shots, but he has struggled this whole year. We were going to live with that, because of [Purdue forward] A.J. Hammons. If he was going to knock them down, then we were going to shake his hand.
“That was really our gameplan, to not let those two guys hurt us.”
Ryan said his players generally found open looks from outside and simply could not find a way to knock them down. Frank Kaminsky and Mike Bruesewitz, both of whom have proved themselves as legitimate but streaky three-point shooters, went a combined 0-of-7 on threes and often missed the basket badly.
For Ryan these were shots that players like Berggren — who finished 1-of-6 from three-point land — make with regularity during practice.
“Those were the most wide-open threes we’ve probably had all year, other than maybe one when Ben didn’t get set,” Ryan said. “ … [Jared has] become pretty comfortable with that shot, it just [didn’t fall].”
Wisconsin players offered similar insights — the Boilermakers gave them the usual outside looks that allowed them to bury opponents on a recent three-game tear, but collectively they could not find their mark. Only when Purdue began to pull away and UW’s first Senior Day loss in Ryan’s 12-year tenure turned into a harsh reality did players start throwing up less-than-favorable looks, according to Berggren.
In the final 6:34, the Badgers missed seven consecutive three-pointers and perhaps exaggerated the numbers on an already-poor afternoon shooting the ball.
“For the most part, they were pretty good looks, can’t recall any bad three attempts besides maybe a few down the stretch that were kind of desperation,” Berggren said.
The 28 three-pointers Wisconsin took tied for the second-most this season and the 21.4 percent clip was the second-worst rate of the season. Only in a 3-of-17 effort against Penn State were the Badgers more inefficient on three balls than they were Sunday afternoon.
It proved especially costly for a team that coming into Sunday’s loss ranked second in the Big Ten with 7.8 three-pointers made per game. Limited to only two first half points in the paint and 18 overall, Painter’s defensive gameplan fed right into Wisconsin’s most glaring weakness in its final home game of the regular season.
“From everywhere on the court in the second half I just feel like we couldn’t get in a rhythm and we didn’t have a flow,” Dekker said. “Hats off to Purdue for playing a good game and taking us out of our comfort zone and exploiting things that we struggled with.”