tuckeralando_dm_416

DEREK MONTGOMERY/Herald photo

With Wisconsin swingman Alando Tucker scoring a put-back bucket at the buzzer, the No. 23 Badgers (19-7, 10-5 Big Ten) earned a 62-60 win over Indiana Tuesday night at the Kohl Center. By coming out on top in the barnburner, Wisconsin wrestled sole possession of third place in the conference standings from the insurgent Hoosiers, who came in needing another quality win to stack their resume for an NCAA tournament berth.

“I felt it when it left my hand, you know, I felt it go in as I heard the buzzer,” Tucker said of his game-winning shot.

After trailing by as many as 10 points midway through the second half, a nine-and-a-half-minute Badger drought from the field allowed Indiana to work the Wisconsin lead down to three with 3:59 left on the clock. A pull-up jumper by off guard Bracey Wright gave the Hoosiers their first lead of the night with 2:22 remaining.

“Our guys grew up again tonight. I thought we gave ourselves a chance,” Indiana head coach Mike Davis said. “But we came up short.”

Wisconsin forward Mike Wilkinson missed two from the charity stripe but made good on the following opportunity to even it up at 56 with 1:48 left. After a missed 3-pointer by Indiana guard Marshall Strickland, Wilkinson converted on one of two from the line to reclaim the lead just outside the final minute.

On the following Hoosier possession, Wright drew a foul on Wilkinson while breaking along the baseline. Wright nailed both charity shots to reclaim the lead at 58-57. Shooting 2-for-7 from the stripe heading into the closing minute of play, Wilkinson sank both shots from the line after drawing an inside foul on forward Robert Vaden. Wisconsin led once again, 59-58.

“I have seen guys over the years … who will miss some free throws and they disappear,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “Not Mike (Wilkinson). He wasn’t going anywhere — except to the free-throw line again.”

With an opportunity to take the lead, Indiana guard Roderick Wilmont committed an 11th-hour turnover on the ensuing possession. Badger off guard Kammron Taylor scrapped for the loose-ball rebound, dishing it out to Wilkinson with 28 seconds on the clock. Indiana quickly fouled the senior forward, who converted on one of his two opportunities to grab the 60-58 advantage.

With 14 seconds to go, Wilmont earned momentary redemption by dropping in the equalizer on the put-back. On the final possession of the game, two missed shots and two offensive rebounds — all by Wilkinson and Tucker — left the ball suspended off the glass with the clock virtually expired. With just seconds remaining, Tucker exploded to the rim and skied for the tip-in to give Wisconsin the victory. The shot also ended the Badgers’ dry spell from the field, a drought that spanned almost half of the second period.

“We went from 53 to 60, and it was seven free throws,” Ryan said. “Fortunately, we had one more [basket] in us. You think we wanted to see that go into overtime? No way.”

While the Wisconsin swingman’s glass-crashing heroics came as a surprise to most in attendance, the turn of events failed to catch the Badger helmsman off guard.

“‘Alando, you’re going to get the offensive rebound on the miss that’s going to win the game,'” Ryan said he told the sophomore prior to the Badgers’ final possession. “That’s the only time all night where anybody listened to me.”

Following the game, a smiling Tucker confirmed Ryan’s claim.

“He’s been doing this for a long time. He always says that, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, you’ve been doing it,'” Tucker said of Ryan’s prediction. “He called it. Hey, I was thinking, ‘I wonder if he drew it up like that. I wonder if he knew it would happen like that.'”

Before the night’s climactic finale, the flow of the game revolved around the frontcourt duel between Wilkinson and Indiana’s D.J. White. Finding unprecedented success with his signature pump-fake, left-handed jumper, Wilkinson tallied 19 of his 28 points in the first half. On the other end of the floor, White finished the night shooting 7-for-9 to lead the Hoosiers with 17 points — though he only managed to grab two boards, guarded in the post by Wilkinson most of the night.

Wisconsin struck first in the contest, with Tucker breaking through on the backdoor cut for an easy lay-up. With Wilkinson applying most of the team’s offensive firepower early, the Badgers sailed to a 14-6 lead with 14:36 remaining in the half. The senior landed three inside shots and one from 3-point range for nine of Wisconsin’s 14 points in the opening five-and-a-half minutes.

By the midpoint in the period, Indiana managed to pull within three points, reeling off a 9-2 run behind the post scoring of White. Wilkinson answered the call.

After tallying back-to-back buckets on the following two Badger possessions, Wilkinson intercepted a pass in the paint and spotted up at the opposite end of the floor to drain a 3-pointer. The basket restored the Badgers’ lead to double digits at 27-17. Converting on the fast break off miscues in the Wisconsin passing game, Indiana hacked the margin back down to five.

Wisconsin mounted a brief run — capped by another Wilkinson trey — to restore the margin to double digits with 2:30 left in the period. The two squads entered halftime with the Badgers holding a 37-30 advantage.

Coming out of the break, White landed back-to-back baskets to cut the Wisconsin lead to 37-34. The Badgers then rallied on a 7-0 run, culminating in a 3-pointer from the top of the key by pointman Sharif Chambliss. The first of Wisconsin’s second-half droughts from the floor then ensued — lasting three minutes — as the Hoosiers reduced the Badger lead to five.

Wisconsin managed to sink two more baskets before the midpoint of the second stanza while a scoring lull from Indiana kept the Hoosiers at a comfortable distance. The second of those two buckets arrived with 10:10 remaining in the game, when Tucker drove inside, scored and drew a foul on Vaden. Shaken up after the play, the Badger sophomore limped to the line before converting on the old-fashioned 3-point play.

Fewer than 30 seconds later, the greater of Wisconsin’s two second-half droughts commenced, eventually brought to an end by Tucker’s game-winning put-back.

“I think it helps us that we’ve been in these tough kind of games,” Wilkinson said. “At the end, we got a good look, got a few rebounds and finally finished.”