Men’s Basketball: Badgers collapse in second half, end season in Las Vegas

After suffering nine-minute scoring drought, Wisconsin fails to overcome North Texas in NIT Semifinals

· Mar 29, 2023 Tweet
Badgers vs Ohio State Big Ten Tournament 2023

Justin Mielke/The Badger Herald

With just two victories separating the cardinal and white from a National Invitation Tournament title, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (20-15) floundered down the stretch against North Texas (30-7) and concluded their 2023 campaign with a 56–54 defeat in Las Vegas.

After conquering both Bradley University and Liberty University in front of Badger faithful and vanquishing the University of Oregon in Eugene, UW could not quell North Texas’ nationally-ranked scoring defense. Sure, Wisconsin generated 41 points in the opening frame, but it crumbled when pressure ballooned in crunch time.

“It was a tale of two halves,” head coach Greg Gard said in his post game press conference. “I thought we were really good offensively in the first half. Second half, I thought they got up into us with some pressure.”

Wisconsin opened regulation with efficiency and offensive parody. Gard’s squad canned nearly half of its attempts from the field and capitalized on over 40% of its 3-point snipes. Senior forward Tyler Wahl utilized his unorthodox scoring mechanisms to get to the rim while sophomore Chucky Hepburn, notorious for his Kobe-esque bucket-getting ability, drilled his first five looks from outside.

Six different Badgers scratched the scoresheet in the first period, and despite managing a respectable 45.45% clip in the frame, North Texas faced a double-digit deficit at intermission, 41–29.

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To begin the second half, both Steven Crowl and Wahl continued to execute down low. The Mean Green, however, transformed a once-formidable offensive onslaught into an unrecognizable platoon. With just over nine minutes remaining until the final buzzer, freshman Connor Essegain hit a 3-point jumper from the right wing. The Badgers, victims of monumental scoring droughts throughout the season, would fail to score a single point for the rest of the game.

The Mean Green would orchestrate a 10–0 run to close the contest, and on UW’s final possession of the season, Wahl and Crowl played hot potato underneath the cylinder. Their indecision ultimately concluded with a turnover. With help from its unrelenting defensive aggression, North Texas outscored Wisconsin 27-13 in the second half to seal a bid to the NIT final against conference rival, the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“I feel like me and [Steven Crowl] were pretty close to each other,” Wahl said. “Looking back at it now, I probably should’ve just shot it.”

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For Wisconsin, Hepburn spearheaded UW’s first half scoring barrage. The sophomore registered 15 tallies, all courtesy of looks from beyond the arc, distributed four assists and forced a pair of giveaways on the defensive end.

Wahl poured in five field goals for 12 points and snagged seven rebounds as well. Essegian, who accounted for the Badgers’ final field goal of the contest, finished the match with 12 total points. Crowl, who dominated Bradley early in the tournament, scored 10 points and seized eight North Texas misfires in the painted area.

On the opposite side, senior Tylor Perry played all 40 minutes and notched a game-leading 16 points and three swipes. Guards Kai Huntsberry and Rubin Jones each chipped in with 12 tallies, and their 6-foot-9 teammate, Moulaye Sissoko, nailed the game-clinching hook shot from the right block.

In a season characterized by adversity and turmoil, the Badgers will venture back to Madison and re-group for yet another quest at an NCAA Tournament bid in 2024.

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This article was published Mar 29, 2023 at 7:05 pm and last updated Mar 29, 2023 at 7:05 pm

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