WASHINGTON, D.C. – After a terrible February, March was the month for the Badgers to turn things around. A big opportunity was in the Big Ten Tournament in the nation’s capitol, where Wisconsin looked to play like they did on Sunday, a big win against Minnesota on Senior Day. They were successful, defeating the Indiana Hoosiers, 70-60.
Their opponent, the 18-14 Hoosiers, came in with an impressive win over Iowa, scoring a near Big Ten-record 95 points in the victory.
Wisconsin senior and third team All-Big Ten performer Nigel Hayes started the contest very aggressively. Hayes hit a midrange jumper to start off the scoring, followed by another and two free throws, to score six of the first eight for Wisconsin.
The Hoosiers’ stars would not be outdone, as James Blackmon, Jr. and Robert Johnson each hit an early three, continuing what they did against the Hawkeyes.
An intriguing storyline coming into this matchup was Ethan Happ against Thomas Bryant. It did not disappoint early, with both playing absolute lockdown defense on their respective opponent. However, Bryant picked up a foul guarding Happ and one guarding Hayes, and was forced to sit over 12 of the first 20 minutes.
Wisconsin got a very nice lift off the bench, as freshman spark plug D’Mitrik Trice came in, scoring five points early and dishing a tough pass to Happ in the post. Trice also provided Bronson Koenig to play off-ball for much of the half, which worked out very well, as Koenig scored eight points to lead UW at the break, including two threes.
Blackmon Jr. led Indiana with 10 points at the half, and Juwan Morgan pitched in seven, including a very pretty alley-oop play, during a run when Wisconsin didn’t score for nearly three minutes.
In the last seven minutes of the half, Wisconsin’s defense was nearly unstoppable. The Badgers held the Hoosiers scoreless for over four minutes, as well as back to back shot clock violations, a rarity in college basketball.
At the break, Wisconsin led Indiana 33-27.
The second half started off very similar to the beginning of the game – very fast-paced – with Hayes scoring the first bucket, a pretty left-handed finish. Indiana answered right back with buckets from Morgan and Johnson.
Leading 35-31, the No. 2 (B1G) Badgers went on yet another big run, this one 12-2, to break the game open at 47-33, forcing Hoosiers coach Tom Crean to call a timeout.
After a phantom foul call on Trice on a three-pointer for the Hoosiers, the Badgers had another run, including six unanswered points in 25 seconds. Trice tipped the ball away on defense, and then he and Showy each hit timely shots from long range, to put Wisconsin up 57-42.
With a little over a minute left, Indiana came all the way back to just a four-point deficit, making the score 64-60. When Wisconsin got the ball back, none other than Mr. Klutch Koenig hit a tough layup to put the team back up six.
Zak Showalter then came away with a steal, putting the Badgers up eight with a pair of free throws. When all was said and done, the Badgers would come out victorious over the Hoosiers.
Wisconsin faces the winner of No. 6 Northwestern-No. 3 Maryland tomorrow afternoon. That game can be seen shortly on BTN.
It’s early, but so far, March is treating Wisconsin a little better than February did. Coach Gard had some honest thoughts about what he does to promote success during the month of Madness.
“I just tell them, Hey, play. March is for players. Go play. This is your time of the year.”
That the Badgers did, including a big performance from Trice in his first postseason game. Koenig was asked what he thought of Trice’s play tonight.
“I’m extremely proud of him. I just got a question asked in the locker room about, have I said anything to him about March. I pretty much just said, I don’t even really need to say anything about March because of his background, where he comes from.”
“I just need to give him all the confidence out on the court.”
Trice, Koenig and the Badgers will look to continue their confident play Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Center.