The first time a red-hot Wisconsin team played Indiana, the Badgers left with their 16-game winning streak snapped and started a stretch of five losses in six games. Facing an eerily similar situation on Tuesday, Wisconsin got its revenge.
Sam Dekker scored a team-high 17 points, and all five Badgers starters scored in double figures, as No. 14 Wisconsin battled back from a 10-point halftime deficit to score a 69-58 victory over the upset-minded Hoosiers at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin (23-5, 10-5 Big Ten) has won six straight games since moving through the dark stretch the Hoosiers started. While Indiana exposed holes in the Badgers defense the first time around—opposing teams scored more than 70 points three straight times during the losing streak—Bo Ryan's stingy unit was back in full force Tuesday.
The Hoosiers shot 42.1 percent from the floor but struggled mightily in the second half on both ends of the floor to allow Wisconsin to dominate down the stretch.
Noah Vonleh, who scored 18 points, was the only Indiana player who was consistently effective. Yogi Ferrell went on a late run to score a game-high 24, but he was only inconsistently effective. Will Sheehey mostly disappeared after a solid first half—a plague that enveloped the entire Indiana roster.
For most of the first half, it actually looked like Wisconsin would be going away frustrated. With Vonleh hitting shots from all over the floor and Ferrell beating the perimeter defense for dribble drives, Indiana was defeating Wisconsin at its own game. The Hoosiers went into halftime ahead 29-19, holding Wisconsin to just seven field goals and below the 30 percent mark from the field.
While Dekker was steady throughout, Ben Brust may have been the biggest evidence of the dichotomy between the halves. Brust was 0-of-5 in the first half, making him 1-of-12 over his past three halves of basketball.
Going back to the Badgers' victory over Michigan, Brust had made just one of his last 17 shots from beyond the arc. There is cold, there is being cryogenically frozen and somewhere a couple of steps colder down the line was Brust's jumper.
Then the second half opened, and Brust found his shot. Brust hit his first three at the 15:45 mark in the second half, another less than a minute later and a third straight before finally cooling back down. He finished 3-of-10 from the field, but the last of his three makes gave Wisconsin a 41-38 lead it would never give up.
Dekker then took over as part of a key run to put the game away. The sophomore forward scored nine points on a 17-4 run, giving Wisconsin a 58-43 lead that was totally insurmountable. By the time the game ended, Wisconsin was shooting a respectable 41.7 percent from the floor.
But where Wisconsin really made its nut was on the free-throw line. The Badgers committed only seven fouls compared to Indiana's 20. They dwarfed their road opponents 24-3 in free-throw attempts, a jarring discrepancy that has to please Ryan.
The Wisconsin coach has long preached avoiding fouls, setting a goal for his team every game to make more free throws than his opponent takes. As Ryan told reporters earlier this week:
You always work towards it. You always get guys that believe that, if you take shortcuts with your hands, you're going to be called for a lot of fouls that aren't necessary, play defense with your feet. So you try to limit the number of attempts the other team takes, but you can't play soft. You can't give guys things.
This was an important win for Wisconsin—and not just for revenge purposes. Indiana's trip to Madison is one of a select few tests left on the Badgers' schedule, with only a season-ending road tilt against Nebraska looming as a possible "losable" game.
Wisconsin's next two games are relative gimmes against Penn State and Purdue, and with Michigan and especially Michigan State both having tests left on the schedule, a regular-season title isn't entirely out of the question.
More importantly, the Badgers still have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed. It's far from likely. The committee isn't going to forget Wisconsin's midseason struggles. But if Ryan's squad is able to continue its recent win streak, a No. 2 seems like a guarantee—with the No. 1 possibility depending on how other elite teams do down the stretch.
For now, those in Madison will take solace that, on a night the Badgers looked like they would blow their chances, they managed to escape alive.
|Will Sheehey, F||C|
|Austin Etherington, F||C-|
|Troy Williams, F||C-|
|Noah Vonleh, F||A-|
|Yogi Ferrell, G||B|
|Hanner Mosquera-Perea, F||C|
|Jeremy Hollowell, F||C|
|Collin Hartman, F||C|
|Devin Davis, F||C|
|Stanford Robinson, G||B-|
|Evan Gordon, G||C-|
|Josh Gasser, F||B-|
|Frank Kaminsky, F||B-|
|Sam Dekker, F||B|
|Ben Brust, G||C|
|Traevon Jackson, G||C+|
|Evan Anderson, C||C|
|Zach Bohannon, F||C|
|Duje Dukan, F||C|
|Vitto Brown, F||C|
|Nigel Hayes, F||C+|
|Jordan Hill, G||C|
|Bronson Koenig, G||C|
Players of the Game: Noah Vonleh (F, Indiana), Sam Dekker (F, Wisconsin)
Vonleh is understandably held out of a majority of the conversations about the nation's elite freshmen. He wasn't as highly touted as the Andrew Wigginses and Julius Randles of the world coming into college, nor does his statistical profile befit the fawning as a Jabari Parker. Of course, it doesn't help that Indiana is a thoroughly mediocre team that's hung outside the national purview either.
But NBA teams have been taking notice of Vonleh all season. The Indiana forward could become a Serge Ibaka type at the next level, and Tuesday night's game was proof positive why. Tom Crean moved his big man all over the floor on both ends, having him crash the boards and take jumpers offensively while patrolling the paint on the other end.
In the first half, Vonleh was as close to perfect as he's been all season. He knocked down two three-pointers for just the sixth time all season, which stretched the floor and allowed Ferrell to attack the rim on dribble drives. Vonleh, Ferrell and Sheehey were a combined 11-of-20 in the first 20 minutes. Their teammates shot just 1-of-9.
Just as vital was Vonleh's contributions defensively. Wisconsin's bigs had a terrible time finishing underneath, and an early block from Vonleh helped set the tone for the early struggles. Even when the Badgers got their offense rolling in the second half, it was mostly outside—many of which came from Brust.
Still, it's hard to recognize any Badger other than Dekker. He was typically unspectacular. None of his buckets were emphatic slams, and there were few feats that ever made your jaw drop. Dekker just got the job done, efficiently and quietly, playing with poise well beyond his years.
With Brust struggling in the first half, Dekker held steady and helped pick his teammate up. Then Brust's shots started going in, followed by another run by Dekker. One shot led to another which led to another, and suddenly Wisconsin was back in the game.
It wasn't Dekker's best game nor was it frankly anyone's best game. But the best teams in the nation survive and advance, and that's exactly what Wisconsin did Tuesday.
Wisconsin's relatively easy conclusion to its Big Ten schedule continues Sunday when it travels to Happy Valley for a matchup against Penn State. Indiana has a bit of an opposite problem. The Hoosiers' season-ending run of four games in five against ranked opponents continues Thursday against Iowa.
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