A question was posed to me after the game: did the Badgers hit a single shot Tuesday against Penn State that didn’t hit rim on the way down?
The answer, really, is I don’t know. Maybe one of Ryan Evans’s baseline jumpers, and Jordan Taylor’s mid-range two-pointer late in the game. But more strikingly, of the 48 shots the Badgers hoisted at the Bryce Jordan Center, only 17 of them went through the hoop regardless of the path they took to the floor. It took yet another strong defensive effort and just enough scoring to bring home thE badgers’ sixth straight conference win as Jordan Taylor and Wisconsin escaped, 52-46.
The first half was sluggish in multiple ways. Not only did the Badgers struggle to make the scoreboard move, but it seemed they were struggling to move their legs as well. There was very little activity against a bustling Penn State defense, and the result was less swinging of the ball and more handing it around the perimeter. As a result, Wisconsin managed just 17 points in the jalf and trailed by six points against arguably the worst team in the conference at the half.
Although it took the entire game for the Badgers to to finally dispatch Penn State, the Badgers showed much more activity in the second half and began to run the offense with some success. First it was Jared Berggren (4-10, 8 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks) working inside, throwing down a couple of dunks and grabbing some offensive rebounds. Then the game moved outside, with Ryan Evans (5-12, 11 points hitting some mid-range shots.
Jordan Taylor, however, was practically invisible for the first 30 minutes of the game. He struggled to shoot, and even with a late surge he finished just 4-for-12 from the field. But two of those shots were huge, including a 16-foot jumper to go up 40-36 and a three-pointer to extend the lead to 43-38. Then, Taylor iced the game at the line once again, finishing with a solid 18 points boosted by 8-for-10 shooting at the line.
The Badgers were bailed out, to be certain, by the Nittany Lions’ inability to score. Tim Frazier looked in control at times. His 21 points and seven assists are very impressive in such a slow-paced game (just 54 possessions), but he needed 22 shots to do so. Although he got a solid 5-for-7 out of Jermaine Marshall in the first half, the Badgers locked down on Frazier’s teammates in the second half. Marshall finished 6-for-13 and only one Penn State player made half of their free throws — Jonathan Graham, who also finished 0-for-3 from the line.
The brutal offensive performance, particularly in the first half, is a concern for Wisconsin to be sure. But it also serves as a reminder of the massive margin for error this excellent defense provides. For the 12th time in 23 games, the Badgers held a team below 90 points per 100 possessions, a feat last season’s team only accomplished six times in 34 contests.
The Badgers won’t have that margin for error Saturday against Ohio State, but they did just enough to get to 7-3 in the conference, setting up a weekend battle for first place at the Kohl Center.