The No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers came into a showdown against No. 23 Maryland with two straight losses, as well as their loss of sole possession of the Big Ten lead. A strong performance from Nigel Hayes and rebounding domination helped key the Badgers’ win, as well as give them a tie for first place in the conference.
Hayes’s big time performance
In Wisconsin’s biggest game of the year so far, their senior leader Nigel Hayes delivered, showing why he was picked as the favorite to win Big Ten Player of the Year before the season started.
The Badgers were playing against one of the most talented teams in the conference in the Terrapins, and although he scored nine points in 31 minutes, the team did not start the game with fellow senior Bronson Koenig, who made some plays but did not look quite like himself. Koenig sat in the Badgers’ loss at Michigan due to a lower leg injury.
With teams watching tape and learning to defend Ethan Happ with double teams, someone else had to step up today, and that is what Hayes did, finishing with a team-high 21 points, and a game-high 10 rebounds. Hayes also played the nearly the whole game, resting for only two minutes.
The Badgers’ forward didn’t have his best game shooting at 6/15 (40%), but did get to the line for a game-high 14 free throw attempts, which shows aggression that had been lacking recently. In addition, Hayes also made a couple terrific passes, including a no-look to Happ on a backdoor cut for the finish.
Hayes’ performance today, although not the prettiest, demonstrated how smart of a player Nigel really is, as head coach Greg Gard talked about after the game.
“His vision, his IQ, he understands the game,” Gard described. “If he wants to be a coach, he’ll be a good one one day because he thinks the way I see him, and how he sees the game. He’s very astute in that regard, and he’s unselfish.”
Although Ethan Happ has gotten a lot of attention recently, Nigel is incredibly important to this team on and off the court. When he plays like he did against Maryland, the team is tough to stop.
Another big reason the Badgers came out with the victory was their enormous rebounding advantage, at +17 overall for the game, the team’s largest margin in conference play this year.
Overall, Maryland grabbed 27 boards and Wisconsin grabbed 44, out-rebounding the Terrapins by four on the defensive end. However, what was most impressive was the team’s absolute dominance on the offensive glass.
In total, the Badgers had a whopping 18 offensive rebounds, compared to just four for the Terps. That not only creates an advantage in shots and time of possession, but gave Wisconsin 19 second chance points, +11 over Maryland.
Starters Hayes, Happ, and Vitto Brown, along with sixth-man Khalil Iverson accounted for 30 of the team’s rebounds, and 11 offensive rebounds.
For people that don’t follow the Badgers as closely, the man who led the Badgers with five offensive rebounds and had seven total, was a surprise to most – guard Brevin Pritzl. Pritzl played a career-high 23 minutes today, and Coach Gard thought that his rebounding was big as well.
In his post game press conference, Gard explained Pritzl’s impact on the game. “Obviously Brevin (Pritzl) with five offensive rebounds,” made a huge impact, “and I’m not so sure we didn’t score on every one of those.” Second chance opportunities were critical against the Terps, and Pritzl’s play came through.
Wisconsin is notably not the greatest shooting team, and certainly hasn’t been for the last month. However, if they can keep rebounding like this, it will be tough not to create some points off the glass, as they did today.