Winning road games in the Big Ten is usually hard. Big Ten road teams were 24-38 in conference play this season entering Thursday’s action. They were 20-37 excluding Wisconsin. Despite a few hiccups, the Badgers kept it rolling in Minneapolis on Thursday night, pulling out a 68-61 road victory in overtime behind a refreshing 27-point performance from star point guard Jordan Taylor.
Taylor finally showed some of the pure shooting which so characterized last season’s Badger squad. The Minnesotan drained his first four shots from three and finished 5-for-9 from behind the arc. In total, he finished with 27 points on 14 shots, showing the surgical efficiency which earned him preseason All-American honors this year — an efficiency, particularly from the field — that had been lacking in previous games.
Particularly given Taylor’s big-time performance, overtime should not have been an issue for the Badgers. At 51-41 with 7:40 to go, things seemed pretty safe for Wisconsin. But the Badgers would not score again in regulation as they were forced to cling for dear lives heading into the extra period.
The extra period showcased more of the domination the first 33 minutes contained. The Badgers scored a whopping 17 points, getting six clutch points from Ryan Evans, five from Jordan Taylor, four from Josh Gasser and two from Jared Berggren, largely coming at the free throw line — the Badgers only hit one field goal in extra time.
Rodney Williams showed up as usual, pouring in 16 points on 13 shots from the field. When the Gophers are competing, they typically get a big performance from one of their bench players, and Thursday was no exception. This time, it was Andre Hollins, who was the most active Gopher on both ends of the court. He scored 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting, including a scorching 5-for-6 from three which really brought Minnesota up from the deck in the second half of the game.
In the end, though, the Gophers simply gave the Badgers too many chances, whether it was from the free throw line (where the Badgers went 21-for-25) or on second chance points (10 rebounds on 34 missed shots). Those advantage allowed the Badgers to score just enough points before the cold streak set in and to outlast the valiant effort of Hollins to bring the Gophers back from the dead.
For the Badgers, extremely slim hopes of a Big Ten championship remain alive, although it is entirely in Ohio State’s hands at this point. Perhaps more realistically, this victory increases the Badgers’ chance at a top-4 seed in both the Big Ten Tournament (where they hold their 1.5 game lead on Indiana for fourth) and the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, Tubby Smith’s team remains squarely on the bubble. The rest of the Big Ten season and the conference tournament will give them ample opportunities to pad the resume and the RPI, but this was a huge opportunity that the Gophers could end up really regretting on Selection Sunday.