WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Wisconsin had a chance.
As they have so many times this season, the Badgers battled closely Thursday night with the 12th-ranked Boilermakers at Mackey Arena. For once, however, their luck ran out.
“We put ourselves in a very good position,” senior guard Jason Bohannon said. “We kept fighting through everything they did… It’s just sometimes how the ball rolls.”
Sophomore guard Jordan Taylor echoed his captain, choosing bounces in place of rolls to describe the tough break at the end of the Badgers’ 60-57 loss to Purdue.
Following a 17-point drubbing of Penn State on Jan. 3, Wisconsin has seen each of its last seven games this month determined by 10 points or fewer. The three at home — versus Purdue, Michigan and Penn State — were wins.
In each of the last two wins, the Badgers have come from behind in the second half after struggling much of the night to put the ball in the basket. While the Wisconsin offense was much more in sync Thursday night at Mackey Arena, the cardinal and white once again found themselves staring at an eight-point deficit with less than seven minutes to play.
On the road, however, it has been a much different story. The 16th-ranked Badgers are 1-3 away from the Kohl Center this month with losses at then-No. 11 Michigan State, at Ohio State and at No. 12 Purdue.
The key to each of those three games? Free throws.
Wisconsin has made more shots from the charity stripe at home than its opponents have attempted. Unfortunately for the Badgers, though, that trend has not translated to road games.
In its last three losses, UW has shot just 20-for-31 from the foul line, or 64.5 percent. The Badgers’ opponents, on the other hand, have made 39-of-57, or 68.4 percent.
When looking strictly at percentages, there’s not a major difference. But UW opponents have made more free throws than the Badgers have attempted in three January losses.
In Thursday’s loss in particular, Wisconsin shot 8-for-14 from the line, including an uncharacteristic 3-of-8 performance by senior guard and captain Trevon Hughes.
“Oh, definitely,” Hughes answered, when asked if he would look back on the missed free throws. “That’s where I dropped something, at the free throw line. I’m normally not like that, but…it’s easy to correct those.”
Against Michigan State, Hughes missed his only two attempts of the night, while he did not make a single trip to the line in Columbus. Still, the 6-foot guard from Queens, N.Y., has gone 3-for-10 in the Badgers’ three Big Ten losses.
Another commonality in at least two of Wisconsin’s three conference losses has been rebounding, or the Badgers’ inability to do so.
In East Lansing on Jan. 6, the Spartans easily outrebounded Wisconsin by a margin of 38-23. It was a game in which Jon Leuer played just 21 minutes due to foul trouble, but the 6-foot-10 native of Long Lake, Minn., grabbed seven boards in limited time.
When Purdue visited the Kohl Center, Leuer had 10 boards, but with the junior forward in street clothes at Purdue, the Boilermakers grabbed 12 more rebounds than the Badgers, finishing with a 37-25 edge on the glass.
More importantly, though, PU owned an 11-7 edge on the offensive glass. Those 11 second-chance opportunities translated to 12 Boilermaker points while Wisconsin scored just three second-chance points.
Forward Robbie Hummel was particularly effective cleaning the glass for Purdue, as the 6-foot-8 junior from Valparaiso, Ind., finished with 13 rebounds, including four offensive boards.
“I was fortunate the ball bounced my way a few times,” Hummel said. “It was just one of those nights where it seemed like a lot of balls were coming my way, so I guess I was fortunate to be in that situation.”
Jackson returns, sees first action of season
There were a lot of boos directed toward the frustration of Boilermaker fans Thursday night at Mackey Arena, but at least two times they were saying ‘Lew.’
Shortly after the first media timeout, less than seven minutes into the game, sophomore point guard Lewis Jackson made his season debut for the Purdue Boilermakers. Jackson had missed the first 19 games of the season following foot surgery to repair a torn ligament.
At his Monday press conference, Purdue head coach Matt Painter hinted at Jackson’s return to practice and games in the near future.
No one outside the locker room likely expected Jackson to play Thursday, however.
“I kind of knew at the beginning of the week that I was probably going to play,” Jackson said. “We wanted to stay focused on Purdue and the team and getting ready for Wisconsin, so we really didn’t want to make it a big issue.
“As far as playing, I feel great and it’s great to be back out there playing with my teammates.”