The game between #17 Indiana and #25 Wisconsin proved to be every bit as competitive as expected with the largest margin either team held being seven points with two seconds remaining. In the end it was the little things that made the difference in the Badgers' 57-50 victory, as Bo Ryan's team shot 12-for-12 from the foul line in the second half and grabbed the final seven rebounds of the game. That rebound stretch was over the final 3:38 of the contest, with their offensive rebounds leading to four of their nine second-chance points. Wisconsin's offensive rebounding percentage in the second half was 33.3% after finishing the first half with a percentage of 22.2%, and that allowed them to shut the door late.
"It's our first game holding a team under 30 percent on the field, but they got a couple of really big rebounds at the end of the game at crucial times," remarked Indiana head coach Tom Crean. "We put ourselves in position to win, we just didn't finish it off."
Jordan Taylor didn't shoot particularly well, missing all five of his three-point attempts while scoring 12 points but there were other contributors to the win for Wisconsin. Ben Brust made three of his six shots from deep and scored 13 points off the bench while Mike Bruesewitz (ten points) and Ryan Evans (12 points, nine rebounds) reached double figures as well. The foul line was also critical on a night in which Wisconsin, who scores 35.4% of their points on threes, made just four or seventeen shots from distance. Wisconsin made 15 of 19 from the charity stripe, outscoring the Hoosiers by ten as Indiana made just half of their ten free throws.
"I've never tried to over-analyze free throws other than guys get their routine, they get comfortable, they get their elbow lift, they get their rotation, they get their target sights- some guys look to the front, some guys look to the back," said Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. "And in every drill we do, you've got to be 80 percent or better. So, I think that's helped us over the years. We were close tonight."
Christian Watford and Verdell Jones III led the way for Indiana with 12 points apiece but Cody Zeller and a quiet night and Wisconsin's Jared Berggren was a big reason why. Zeller shot 2-for-7 from the field and scored seven points while grabbing just three rebounds in 19 minutes of action, and while the foul trouble was problematic having to deal with Berggren while he was on the floor didn't help matters. Berggren may not have done much offensively with just four points but he blocked five shots, helping limit the number of quality looks Indiana was able to get near the basket.
"I think he was in a help position and maybe got there a little late and tried to make sure that he didn't foul and waited until Zeller made his move, noted Ryan. "He was fairly effective with it, but Zeller's a good player- he got his offensive opportunities, he's the real deal inside and fortunately we got some fouls on him and that helped us."
With the win Wisconsin remains a game in the loss column behind the three teams atop the Big Ten, and despite their struggles earlier in league play the Badgers gave another reminder that it isn't wise to count Bo Ryan's team out of the title race.
Other Notable Happenings
1. North Carolina whips NC State in impressive fashion to move into a tie for first in the ACC.
Thursday night provided a good test for NC State in regards to how much staying power the Wolfpack could possibly have in the ACC race. Unfortunately for them North Carolina was ready to make a statement of their own, leading by as many as 29 points on their way to a 74-55 victory. Tyler Zeller (21 points, 17 rebounds) and John Henson (nine points, ten rebounds and five blocks) proved to be too much for the Wolfpack inside, and on the perimeter the Tar Heels performed well in their first game without starter Dexter Strickland.
Kendall Marshall dished out 11 assists to just three turnovers while both Harrison Barnes (15 points) and Reggie Bullock (11 points, five rebounds) reached double figures. Scott Wood led the Wolfpack with 11 points but they lost by 19 despite making nine three-pointers due to their struggles inside. NC State shot 32.4% from two as the Tar Heels outscored them 52-24 in that department, and the 46-28 rebounding discrepancy (UNC: 15 offensive rebounds) didn't help matters either. NC State is a bright future under Mark Gottfried with a talented recruiting class on the way and the current bunch is definitely capable of reaching the NCAA Tournament. But Thursday night showed that they may not be ready to think ACC title right now.
2. Robert Morris wins the guard battle and beats LIU Brooklyn to close the gap in the NEC.
LIU Brooklyn had a great opportunity to put even more distance between themselves and the pack in the Northeast Conference race, but winning at Robert Morris is a very difficult task. And in a rematch of last year's NEC Tournament title game, the Colonials went on two runs in the first half to establish a 34-26 halftime lead and led by as many as 15 in the second half of a 75-66 win. Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere did their part for the visitors as they combined for 43 points and Boyd grabbed 12 rebounds to go along with his 25 points. But their guards had a tough night and Robert Morris took advantage as Velton Jones scored 23 points, Coron Williams 13 and Lucky Jones ten.
Velton also dished out seven assists on the night, while LIU's perimeter trio of Jason Brickman, Michael Culpo and C.J. Garner combined to score 16 points on 5-for-24 shooting (Culpo shot 0-for-10). LIU shot 3-for-16 from three on the night and without the balance they normally enjoy offensively (24% of their points come from deep on the average) the Blackbirds were unable to beat the Colonials. RMU and surprising St. Francis (NY) are now a game back (and they play each other on Saturday) in the standings, and a race that could have been out of reach is now back on.
3. Milwaukee slows Butler to a crawl and moves to 7-3 in the Horizon League.
The matchup between the Panthers and Bulldogs was the defensive-minded slugfest that many expected going into the contest, with Butler taking a 25-24 lead into the half. But the Bulldogs went cold in the second half, shooting 5-for-25 from the field and scoring just 17 points in what would become a 53-42 loss. Milwaukee shot 48% in the second half and did a much better job of setting up good looks than they did in the first, assisting on ten of their 12 made baskets. Neither team finished with great efficiency numbers but Butler's were startling, as their offensive efficiency (67.7) and effective field goal percentage (28.9%) were season lows.
James Haarmsma (12 points) and Ryan Allen (11 points) led the way scoring-wise while Kaylon Williams made up for a rough shooting night by dishing out 11 assists and grabbing seven rebounds. Milwaukee remains a game behind Cleveland State in the loss column while Butler falls two games back, and they're also tied with Valparaiso in second place (the Crusaders lost to Green Bay). By no means is anything decided in the Horizon League, but Milwaukee took an important step with their win.
1. It's been a rough season for USC to say the least, but their injury issues reached a new low in their 74-50 loss to Colorado. Center Dwayne Dedmon was lost early in the game with a sprained knee (MRI scheduled for Friday) and late in the second half his replacement, James Blasczyk, went down with a lower leg injury. That left USC with just five healthy scholarship players, and at 0-8 in the Pac-12 things don't look good for the Trojans.
2. One player the nation needs to become more familiar with is UC Riverside guard Phil Martin. Martin nearly led the Highlanders past first-place Long Beach State with 31 points and seven rebounds but it wasn't enough as the 49ers strengthened their grip on first place with a 77-70 overtime win. All five starters for The Beach reached double figures with Casper Ware's 18 leading the way.
3. On Saturday, Arizona made just three of twenty shots from beyond the arc in a one-point loss at Colorado. Against Washington State on Thursday night the Wildcats made 15 of 26 in their 85-61 win over the Cougars, who also lost reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Faisal Aden late in the first half with a left knee injury. Losing their most explosive scorer for an extended period time would be a terrible blow to take for the Cougars.
4. Interim head coach Wes Miller has done a good job of turning things around at UNC Greensboro, and the Spartans won their fifth straight 77-73 over Appalachian State in overtime. Derrell Armstrong scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench and Trevis Simpson added 24 for UNCG, who is now 5-4 in Southern Conference play (half-game behind Elon for first in the North Division).
5. Nevada was able to separate themselves from the pack in the WAC with a 68-60 win at New Mexico State, moving two games ahead of the Aggies in the standings. Deonte Burton scored 17 points and Dario Hunt added 15 and eight rebounds for the Wolf Pack, who also received some help in the form of Utah State's 77-72 win over Hawai'i.
6. Idaho State won a thriller at home, beating Northern Colorado 99-94 in double overtime. But even more important for the Bengals is that they're now a game ahead of both UNC and Eastern Washington in the standings at 4-4, and in the Big Sky only the top six teams qualify for the conference tournament. Chase Grabau led the way with 30 points on 11-for-15 shooting and Melvin Morgan added 22 and five assists for the Bengals.
7. Saint Mary's remained undefeated in WCC play with a 71-64 win at Loyola Marymount, remaining a game ahead of Gonzaga and two ahead of BYU with a trip to Provo next on the schedule (Saturday). Stephen Holt scored 19 points, Matthew Dellavedova 13 and Rob Jones 11 and 15 rebounds. But Brad Waldow's been a key contributor of late as well, scoring ten points following a 14-point, 16-rebound performance at Santa Clara.
Three Notable Performers
1. G Travis Bader (Oakland) and G Nate Wolters (South Dakota State)
Wolters posted a very good line of 21 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds, but it wasn't enough as Bader led the Golden Grizzlies to the 92-87 win with a record-setting night. Bader shot 10-for-14 from three on his way to 37 points off the bench.
2. G J.P. Primm (UNC Asheville)
30 points, five assists, five steals and four rebounds in the Bulldogs' 90-70 win over High Point.
3. G Kevin Murphy (Tennessee Tech)
34 points, six rebounds and three assists in the Golden Eagles' 82-65 win at Eastern Kentucky.