The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team returned to Madison after an overtime thriller Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York, where the Badgers overcame improbable Rutgers University in a defensive showdown.
Head coach Greg Gard acknowledged the offensive woes, but was also proud of the way his team kept playing loose and confident throughout the entire game.
Wisconsin scored fewer points than minutes expired through the first 36 minutes of play, and with 3:22 on the clock the Badgers faced a seemingly insurmountable nine-point deficit (41-32).
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The Badgers trailed for most of the second half until a bucket by sophomore forward Ethan Happ tied the game 45-45 with less than three seconds on the clock to force overtime.
“We struggled to score and put the ball in the basket,” Gard said. “[The players] did a good job of staying loose.”
The Badgers had one of their worst three-point shooting games of the season against the Scarlet Knights, but Gard offered up some of his best jokes as evidence of how he kept the players loose and upbeat during the rough offensive performance.
“Why did the cookie go to the hospital?” Gard joked. “He was feeling crummy.”
Jokes like this one and relentless effort from senior leader Zak Showalter helped the Badgers stay and do just enough to force an overtime period. Gard complimented Zak Showalter for his efforts throughout the game.
“It was the energy and toughness plays,” Gard said. “[Showalter] contributes in a lot of ways.”
With the rebound momentum from Saturday’s win at Madison Square Garden, the Badgers travel to Champaign to take on the University of Illinois. The Fighting Illini have proven to be much better at home than away this year, presenting a tough challenge for a Badger team trying to stay tied atop the Big Ten standings.
“They are a much more potent team, for whatever reason, at home,” Gard said.
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Gard was also asked about the release of the first four seeds from every region on Feb. 11 and seemed to reflect the attitude many have had since the early projections were announced.
“We play two to three times a week, it could change tomorrow,” Gard said. “In terms of our approach, it does not change.”
The newly crowned No. 10 Badgers will attempt to continue their ascent up the polls Tuesday night with an 8 p.m. tip at Illinois.