KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first time since 2006, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team left its opening round game in the NCAA tournament with a loss after falling to Mississippi, 57-46.
Both fifth-seeded Wisconsin (23-12, 12-6 Big Ten) and 12th-seeded Ole Miss (27-8, 12-6 SEC) struggled to find any offensive consistency in the first half of its second round NCAA tournament game.
Through the first six minutes of the game, the Badgers were able to score only four points while the Rebels were equally as stagnant with the ball in their hands and put only three points on the board.
Wisconsin struggled to get any inside looks, which forced it to take long contested jump shots that didn’t fall with any regularity for the entire game. The Badgers ended the first half taking 23 shots and sinking only seven of those, good for a 30.4 field goal percentage.
“That was our worst first half of the year by far,” sophomore guard Traevon Jackson said. “It was just sloppy. We were turning the ball over left and right and just doing things that just weren’t characteristic of us.”
Along with its inability to score, UW gave the ball away multiple times in the first twenty minutes, turning the ball over eight times, well above the usual pace for a team that averages 9.79 turnovers a game.
A positive to be taken away from the first half from Wisconsin’s standpoint was its ability to shut down Ole Miss sharpshooter Marshall Henderson, who only made one of his eleven shots, although after the game Henderson said his early shooting struggles were not a credit to the Wisconsin defense.
“I just didn’t make shots today,” Henderson said. “It happens sometimes. Their defense wasn’t what everyone said their defense was. I just missed shots.”
Coming into the second half, Wisconsin could still not consistently knock down shots despite getting open looks almost every possession in the early goings of the second half. The difference was Ole Miss’ ability to take over the post, draw fouls and get to the free throw line.
Forwards Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway made the paint their home in the second half, getting the ball almost every possession and creating opportunities for layups or free throws.
“They have some big, athletic guys inside,” senior forward Jared Berggren said. “I think we didn’t do a great job of taking in their strong, pump fake, drawing fouls. Second half, they kind of cranked up the pressure. We folded.”
Ole Miss got plenty of contributions in the paint from their guard play as well, with Henderson and Jarvis Summers driving the ball strong to the rim.
The Rebels ended the game with 30 points in the paint compared to the Badgers’ 16.
Despite Ole Miss’ ability to control the paint, Wisconsin was still leading with just over eight minutes remaining in the game. The difference was the emergence of Henderson, who had otherwise been quiet in first half.
The junior shooting guard facilitated the Rebels’ scoring in a majority of the second half hitting five shots, including three three-pointers.
“They just out-toughed us and managed to chip away at our lead,” freshman forward Sam Dekker. “Henderson got some of those big shots. When he hits those, if you’re not stopping that, they’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
With its dominance in the paint and Henderson making his long range jumpers, Ole Miss began to take the momentum of the game from Wisconsin, playing more physical and taking control of the game.
“But for us I think for our guys, they didn’t handle the physicality in the last five-to-seven minutes,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “To me it seemed like the game changed and our guys didn’t react as well as they did.”
With three minutes left, the game started to slip away from Wisconsin as the Badgers repeatedly missed open jump shots and three-pointers while Henderson and Holloway were finishing for the Rebels on the other end of the court.
In the end, the Rebels’ final push proved to be too much for Wisconsin’s anemic offense to overcome in the waning minutes.
It was a somber scene in the locker room after the game as the season came to a much quicker and more abrupt halt than expected and the seniors realizing they had just worn a Wisconsin jersey for the last time.
“A lot of emotions, but it’s hard to really swallow it,” Berggren said fighting back tears. “I almost felt kind of numb and then the emotions come over you and you just can’t believe it’s real, can’t believe my five years here is up. It’s gone so quick and it’s tough.”
Ryan was quick to praise the effort his team put into the season and how much his team was able to accomplish in the regular season.
“Well, I’m extremely proud of these guys to get here,” Ryan said. “I think there’s not too many people that wouldn’t agree with the fact that these guys really overcame a lot of odds, really did some nice things during the year.”