MADISON – In Wisconsin’s loss to Maryland earlier in the season, the Badgers had one of their best halves of the year, but unfortunately dug themselves too big of a deficit in the first half. In Friday night’s rematch, #24 Wisconsin needed and received another big second half to split the season series with #21 Maryland. Wisconsin outscored Maryland by 13 points in the final 20 minutes on their way to a 69-61 victory, the team’s fifth straight win.
The Badgers’ defense, which impressively has held their last four opponents to their season low, got tested by Maryland’s balanced attack early on in Friday night’s thriller. The Terrapins shot over 55 percent from the field in the first half, including six-of-ten from beyond the arc.
Maryland led by as much as nine late in the first half, but a Brevin Pritzl three at the buzzer brought the Badgers’ deficit back to five at the break, 36-31.
Eric Ayala started the game out five-of-five from the field for 13 first-half points. His first-half total was the freshman’s most points in a game since he scored 14 on January 11th against Indiana.
Bruno Fernando, a midseason finalist for defensive player of the year, is one of the best defensive weapons in the Big Ten you can throw at Happ. Although Happ still got his numbers with 18 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists, it was not easy with Fernando making him work.
“When Happ’s playing like that they are really hard to guard,” Maryland’s head coach Mark Turgeon said. “And I thought we played good defense.”
A turning point in Friday night’s game was Fernando picking up two quick fouls on back-to-back possessions early in the second half. Fernando contested Happ at the rim and was whistled, and then bullied Reuvers on the offensive end to get called for his third.
Turgeon had to pull out his potential first-round draft pick, and Ethan Happ scored seven straight points during this stretch to pull the Badgers back even with the Terrapins.
While the Badgers offensively had it going behind Happ, the defense seemed to make some key adjustments over the break. Maryland started out the half just two-of-eight shooting and had a four-plus minute scoring drought.
Eventually, without Fernando, the Terrapins switched to a zone. Happ continued to get to the free throw line with ease, but after starting out five-of-seven, the senior converted just one of his next four attempts as the Badgers were unable to take the lead from Maryland.
The Terrapins offense finally reemerged from its drought, and it was from distance. Ayala calmly nailed a three for his first bucket of the second half. Moments later, Anthony Cowan, who had been noticeably quiet thanks to D’Mitrik Trice’s defense, hit another three for Maryland, as they retook control 46-42 with just under 12 minutes remaining. Maryland trailed for just 16 seconds of game time through this point.
The Badgers answered. Wisconsin calmly prodded Maryland’s zone, particularly working through Happ in the middle of the zone. On back-to-back possessions, Happ assisted threes, one each to Pritzl and Davison. Davison’s three gave him 10 points to join Happ in double-figures.
Gard simply said of Happ: “Ethan Happ played like Ethan Happ.”
Fernando finally reentered the game with just under 10 minutes remaining. The Terrapins switched back to man; Fernando immediately forced Happ into a miss on a tough look inside. Possessions later, Fernando would block Happ’s hook attempt.
Wisconsin would finally take their first lead of the second half despite trailing close behind Maryland for the entirety of the half. Davison, who led the Badgers in scoring with 21 points, hit two threes separated by about 90 seconds for a personal 6-0 run, as the Badgers led 54-52 with just over six minutes remaining.
“We just had to get over the hump,” Davison said. “Once we got over the hump, we were able to take control.”
It officially became a three-party for Wisconsin. Aleem Ford hit his first three from the right wing. Then, Happ would make a nice move on Fernando, giving him his fourth foul, for an old fashioned three-point play just for good measure. The Badgers had their largest lead of just four points with 3:50 remaining.
Aleem Ford put the icing on the cake with his second three to put the Badgers up six, and it seemed like the early dagger, with Trice delivering the final dagger minutes later on a pull-up jumper to put Wisconsin up ten. The Badgers shot 9-of-18 from distance in one of their standout offensive performances of the year.
Maryland, in their win over Wisconsin on January 14th, lived at the free throw line. The Terrapins made 24 of their 29 attempts from the charity stripe, badly outscoring Wisconsin, which went just three-of-six. Cowan scored 11 of his 21 points from the free throw line alone.
In the second matchup, it was a total reversal. The Badgers did a much better job of defending without fouling. The Terrapins shot just eight free throws to Wisconsin’s 23.
“I think we did a little bit better job of keeping them out of the paint,” Happ said of the foul situation. “For us, we attacked the paint more. There were more plays and opportunities at the rim.”
Ayala led the Terrapins with 18 points, Fernando added 13. Ford chipped in 10 points for Wisconsin.
With the victory, the Badgers improved to 16-6, 8-3 in Big Ten play. Up next, the Badgers play at Minnesota on Wednesday at 8 p.m.