Josh Gasser’s 15 points led four Badgers scoring in double figures, and Wisconsin weathered an extended second-half run by the Nittany Lions to earn their 20th win of the season and stay two games behind Michigan State in the Big Ten. The Badgers shot 11-22 from behind the arc and outrebounded Penn State 37-24. Tim Frazier led Penn State with 20 points.
Wisconsin held a 14-point lead at halftime and extended that lead to 20 midway through the second half. The Badgers looked like they’re always supposed to, launching a high volume of threes and holding Penn State to 39% shooting. And today, finally, Wisconsin’s shots from deep were finding the bottom of the net. The first half defense was particularly strong, as the Badgers contained dribble penetration and contested jump shots. They did so with discipline, too, keeping Penn State off the foul line for the entirety of the opening half. Frazier in particular wasn’t able to draw fouls as he had been–he averages 7 foul shots a game, but shot only two against the Badgers.
It looked like a runaway victory for the Badgers, who are nearly unbeatable when they shoot well from three-point range. But credit Penn State for resiliency, as the Nittany Lions chipped the lead down to only five points during an extended 17-2 run. After Ryan Evans hit a jumper to give Wisconsin its biggest lead of the game with 12 minutes left, the Badgers went scoreless for over 5 minutes. That figure is a bit misleading, however. Wisconsin possessed the ball for almost two straight minutes on one possession, grabbing three consecutive offensive rebounds. The Badgers finished with an excellent 37.0 offensive rebound rate.
Penn State never seemed to string buckets together effectively, but Wisconsin’s mistakes helped them earn a few runouts. Wisconsin committed an uncharacteristic 12 turnovers (21.0 TOR), while Penn State gave the ball away only 5 times. More importantly, many of Wisconsin’s turnovers were live-ball, as Penn State racked up seven steals. Frazier continued the recent trend of strong performances by Penn State guards against Wisconsin, though his shooting faltered late in the game. Also concerning? Hot three-point shooting offset decidedly crummy 9-25 (36%) shooting on two-point shots. Jordan Taylor (11 points), Jared Berggren (13 points), and Josh Gasser were a combined 9-14 from deep, but made only 2-of-12 shots inside the arc. A more temperate shooting performance and I could be telling a very different tale right now.
Instead the Badgers started fires on the floor of the Kohl Center with big threes from start to finish. They hit threes in transition, they hit threes off of drive-and-kicks, they hit threes off of ball swings. As a result, their Big Ten Title chances remain alive, if only mathematically. With a revenge game against Iowa followed by a stiff test against Ohio State in Columbus, Wisconsin had better find away to sustain this sort of performance. For at least one day, though, we saw the team that can contend with the conference’s best.