After a back-and-forth, thrilling second half with both teams filling it up on the offensive end, the No. 8 seed Wisconsin Badgers were able to maintain their lead over No. 9 seed Virginia Tech, earning a tough victory, 84-74.
With the Badgers up 74-73 with about a minute and a half remaining, Wisconsin pulled together back-to-back successful possessions that made the difference. Nigel Hayes had an and-one finish on a beautiful drop step move. After a defensive stop, Bronson Koenig missed on a three-point attempt but Ethan Happ secured the offensive rebound and laid it in, giving the Badgers the cushion they needed.
Koenig has had many special March moments and he had himself another special night as he was just simply too much for the Hokies. Koenig willed Wisconsin to a victory in the Round of 64. Koenig finished with 28 points, a career-high (at a very good time), on 8/17 shooting from the perimeter.
Koenig hit his seventh three of the night from way deep with a hand in his face as the shot clock expired. It was that kind of night for the senior. His eighth triple set the Wisconsin single-game record.
The other senior leader, Nigel Hayes, gave the Badgers an inside presence to balance Koenig’s outside brilliance. Hayes was steady in the paint, making post moves and drawing fouls. He finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Khalil Iverson was a major x-factor for the Badgers. Iverson finished with 11 points and attempted 10 free throws. Ethan Happ sat almost the entire first half with two fouls, but Iverson was able to provide a spark off the bench during the first half. Iverson, who missed some of the Big Ten Tournament because of a death in the family, had a couple of rim-rocking dunks, something Badger fans have gotten accustomed to from the sophomore forward. Iverson averages less than four points per game, and he doubled that output during the first half with eight points.
The Badgers have been an awful free throw shooting team all year, but they got it done on Thursday night in a nail-biter. Wisconsin shot 19/25 on freebies. Hayes, who has struggled all year, came in clutch, shooting 8/9 at the charity stripe.
Zak Showalter fouled out with 5:37 left in the game on a Zach LeDay post move and finish on a questionable block/charge call. It looked like Showalter was set, but LeDay’s bucket brought the Hokies within one and took out the Badgers’ best defensive weapon. Luckily for Showalter, that wouldn’t have to be his last memory as a Badger with Wisconsin moving on in the tournament.
LeDay gave the Badgers fits inside. The senior finished with 23 points, while only missing two shots. Ty Outlaw chipped in 16 points.
The Hokies substantially outshot the Badgers in the first half 47.8% to 37.5%. Wisconsin shot nine more field goal attempts and only converted one more bucket than Virginia Tech, but the Badgers forced seven Virginia Tech turnovers and nabbed nine offensive rebounds to help overcome the difference. The Badgers led at the break, 34-30.
Wisconsin moves on to play the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in the Round of 32, Villanova. The game will be played on Saturday at 1:40pm CT in Buffalo (CBS).