Jordan Taylor hit a key jumper with 38 seconds remaining and made 5 of his 6 free throws to close out the game, as the Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Illinois Fighting Illinis 67-63 in Champaign. Taylor finished with a game-high 19 points to go along with a team-high 9 rebounds, five assists, and zero turnovers.
The Badgers battled with Illinois all game, with neither team extending the lead beyond 7. After Ben Brust’s transition and-1 jumper gave Wisconsin a two-point lead in the final minute of the first half, a late bucket by Joseph Bertrand (15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) knotted the score at 26 to end the half. The first 20 minutes were dominated by defense, as both teams slogged their way to a 73.6 ORtg. The Badgers were uncharacteristically imprecise in the first half, committing 4 early turnovers (8 total in the opening half) and missing 6 of their 8 free-throws.
Wisconsin and Illinois emerged from the break sporting matching intensity, as the margin hovered within 4 points for much of the second half. Both teams put up remarkably similar second-half stats: 14 made field goals apiece, both 8-10 from the free-throw line, a minuscule turnover rate. But the Badgers grabbed 6 offensive rebounds to Illinois’ 3 and shot better than 40 percent from deep. Illinois finished 3-12 from behind the arc.
Beyond Bertrand’s solid game, the star for Illinois was undoubtedly Meyers Leonard, who scored 16 points on 6-12 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. The Badgers struggled to cover Leonard all game, frustrated especially by some nice post entry passing by the Illinois guards when Wisconsin fronted Leonard. But Illinois was repeatedly hurt by one of their own, as Brandon Paul–he of 63 points in his last two games–repeatedly attacked an established Badger defense and hoisted difficult, contested shots. Paul finished with 10 points on 3-11 shooting in a game that resembled his first 17 far more than his last two.
Wisconsin got 18 points from Jared Berggren, who made 3 shots from deep and 7-of-14 overall. Berggren looked good on offense, even with Illinois’ perimeter pressure giving Wisconsin’s guards fits, but he missed his share of defensive rotations, particularly in the second half. Ben Brust added 9 points, Josh Gasser scored 6, and Rob Wilson, Mike Bruesewitz, and Ryan Evans each contributed 5.
With the victory, Wisconsin has now won 4 straight conference games after starting Big Ten play 1-3 and sits only a half-game behind the three-way tie for first place. There are still concerns for this team: the offense looked flustered by Illinois’ tight pressure in the half-court and prevailed largely on the back of solid three-point shooting. But with the the Big Ten unfolding in distinctively “anybody-can-beat-anybody” fashion, there’s little reason to count the Badgers out of the Conference Title race just yet.