MADISON – After two disappointing showings at home against Northwestern and on the road at Michigan, the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers looked to right the ship as No. 23 Maryland came to town. Senior point guard Bronson Koenig was active for the Badgers after missing the Michigan game on Thursday night, but D’Mitrik Trice got the start as Wisconsin looked to stay atop the Big Ten race.
The Badgers displayed toughness and poise as they willed their way to a 71-60 win over the Terrapins. Wisconsin outscored Maryland 44-27 in the second half.
Wisconsin won despite shooting only 2/12 from beyond the arc and 21/37 from the free throw line. Nigel Hayes led the Badgers with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Ethan Happ added 20 points on 7/11 shooting from the field.
Zak Showalter was tasked with covering Maryland’s standout point guard Melo Trimble, who was coming off of a career-high 32 point performance against Northwestern in which he only missed five shots. Trimble hit a buzzer-beating three last year in the Kohl Center to sink the Badgers.
Trimble scored 27 points, while the rest of his team only scored 33 points. He controlled the pace offensively for the Terrapins. Whether he was no-look dishing on pick and rolls, finishing the pick and roll himself, or hitting jumpers, Trimble caused the Badgers trouble all game.
Happ continued his strong campaign for Big Ten Player of the Year on Sunday afternoon, being dominant at times. He finished with 20 points, but missed significant time in the second half due to foul trouble.
Hayes came back strong after a somewhat disappointing game in Ann Arbor on Thursday night. He was much more aggressive after only taking seven shots in the loss to Michigan. Hayes took 15 field goal attempts and shot 14 free throws, sinking nine.
Despite the game being very back and forth, Wisconsin faced their biggest deficit of the year going into halftime down six points, 33-27. There were seven ties and eight lead changes in the first 20 minutes. Trimble converted two three-pointers in the final minute and a half to give Maryland a cushion.
After halftime, the Badgers came alive as Bronson Koenig got things started. The Badgers scored 13 of the first 16 points to take the lead, 38-36. Koenig didn’t score in the first half, but hit back-to-back jumpers early on in the second half, with one of them being beyond the arc, to put the Badgers back ahead.
Wisconsin led by eight, their largest lead of the game at that point, after a beautiful two-man play by Happ and Hayes. Hayes was posted up on the left baseline as Happ’s lost him in the paint. Hayes fired a pass over to Happ sitting all alone on the block leading to an easy dunk, making the score 46-38.
Mark Turgeon received a technical foul with 9:32 left in the second half with the Badgers leading by four, as he thought there was a bad no-call on the Maryland end of the floor. Showalter went one-of-two on the ensuing free throws.
Amazingly, the Badgers only turned the ball over eight times. The Badgers lived at the free throw line, and although they didn’t shoot it very well, their performance at the charity stripe allowed them to control the game down the stretch.
Brevin Pritzl added a spark in the second half as well, with career-highs in points (7) and rebounds (7), including a few huge offensive rebounds. Pritzl, who did not play against Michigan, will definitely be cracking the rotation moving forward.
“I appreciate this game for what it was, a great college basketball game,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said after the game. “I wish people would do that, not always look ahead [on the schedule].”
Still, the win was critical in terms of the Big Ten race, as the Badgers and Terrapins came into the game both with a 10-3 conference record, one win behind Purdue. With the win, the Badgers are now tied at the top of the conference with Purdue.
“This place [Kohl Center] was incredible and that’s a credit to our fans,” Gard said.
Next, the Badgers travel to Columbus on Thursday to take on the Buckeyes.