JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — After barely escaping with a win Friday over No. 13 seed Wofford, senior guard Trevon Hughes was asked if the Badgers needed to perform better Sunday.
Without hesitation, he gave his response.
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “Cornell is a tough team. Their confidence is high right now. We need to come out on all cylinders and play like we did in the first 15 minutes of [Friday’s] game. Try to combine that for all 40.”
After Wisconsin won 53-49, it was an obvious answer. But the way Hughes delivered it made it seem as though it was going to happen. This team couldn’t play so poorly for a third straight game could it?
Well, after losing 87-69 to Cornell in the second round Sunday, the answer is yes. The new question after the game was, what happened to the Wisconsin team that at one point beat three teams ranked No. 6 or better in the AP Top 25 poll?
“I couldn’t tell you,” sophomore guard Jordan Taylor said. “Obviously, we started playing better competition down the stretch and we just didn’t execute as well as we could.”
Success in the NCAA Tournament comes with, among other things, a team playing its best basketball at the right time.
Entering the postseason, Wisconsin appeared to be doing just that.
The Badgers had won four straight games to end the regular season and more importantly, the team looked like it was clicking as well as they were before junior forward Jon Leuer went down in early January with a wrist injury.
Once the postseason began, however, everything changed.
“When you get to tournament time, the team that’s peaking at the right time normally wins out,” freshman forward Ryan Evans said. “I think [Cornell has] won 16 games straight or something. They’re really rolling and it’s going to be tough to stop that team.”
Against Cornell in particular, Wisconsin allowed the Big Red to shoot 61.1 percent for the game. The last time a team shot that well or better against the Badgers was in 2001, when Indiana shot 70.2 percent in an 85-55 win over Wisconsin.
Cornell’s 87 points were the most allowed by Wisconsin on the season in regulation.
It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong in general over the last three games for Wisconsin.
Against Cornell, however, it seems the hotter, better shooting team simply came out on top.
“You’ve got to give Cornell credit,” senior guard Jason Bohannon said. “They came out ready to play, and they certainly showed it.”
Seniors go down, but not without a fight
There was a somber mood in the locker room Sunday following the Badgers’ devastating loss to the Big Red of Cornell. As he headed to the team’s postgame press conference, along with fellow senior Hughes and junior forward Jon Leuer, Bohannon was fighting back tears.
His career as a Badger was over.
“It’s tough,” Bohannon said. “At this point in time it’s hard because you get a little teary-eyed. We’ve accomplished a lot of things and been a part of a lot of great teams. It’s been really special.”
Making it even more difficult for Bohannon may have been the way he played in his final game. After a pair of disappointing offensive performances against Illinois and Wofford, the Wisconsin sharpshooter finally found his touch, scoring 18 points against Cornell.
Hughes, on the other hand, will look back disappointed in his final game for another reason.
After playing under control and leading his team so many times this season, the 6-foot guard from Queens seemed to be out of sync Sunday. He turned the ball over six times while handing out just two assists.
After the game, Hughes looked inward, blaming himself for his poor play.
“I was hurting the team with my mistakes,” he said. “I made some bad decisions. … I was better than that; I didn’t bring my ‘A’ game.”