The Penn State Nittany Lions entered the Kohl Center with one of the most prolific 3-point offenses in the nation. After defeating them 63-60, the Wisconsin Badgers showed why you need a legitimate frontcourt to have sustained success in the Big Ten.
While all eyes were on the return of Tyler Wahl, it was Steven Crowl that stole the show. He led all scorers with 21 points on 9-16 shooting while adding 11 rebounds and 2 assists. He was able to take fully exploit the size advantage and control the interior. As predicted by yours truly, he recorded his second double-double on the season.
Tyler Wahl is the type of player that makes college basketball so great. Statistically speaking, it was a solid effort after a 3-game layoff. He scored 10 points on 3-10 shooting from the field, sinking his only 3-point attempt, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 rebound. What can’t be measured, in statistics, is the grit and tenacity that he not only brings but imparts to the whole Badger squad.
Penn State’s “Mr. Everything”, Jalen Pickett, led them in scoring with 19 points, rebounding with 12 boards, and assists with 6. The Nittany Lion’s sniper, Andrew Funk, hit 3 of 8 from long range on his way to a 16-point effort.
For those who say that Greg Gard cannot coach, do not use this game to bolster your argument, as his second-half adjustments changed the flow of the whole game. Penn State shot 5-9 from distance in building a 36-30 lead in the first half. Wisconsin’s perimeter defense changed so much that the Nittany Lions went 3-11 from long range in the second half. In addition, the Badgers generated 10 turnovers against the team that, coming into the battle, had led the Big Ten in ball security.
Connor Essegian made his first start and scored 10 points on 4-7 shooting with 2-4 from beyond the arc. He also chipped in 3 boards and 1 steal. Perhaps just as vital, and even more impressive, in 33 minutes played he did not commit a turnover. This kid physically looks like a freshman but plays like a seasoned upperclassman. Chucky Hepburn was the final Badger in double digits for scoring, with 13 points.
This win puts Wisconsin back above the .500 in conference play, while halting their 3-game skid. While many of the games have been close, Penn State still is winless in the Kohl Center, losing all 19 contests. I have often been accused of using hyperbole, but this had the makings of a mild, “must-win” match. The fact that Wisconsin was able to claw its way to a victory speaks volumes about the moxie that this team has. The same kind of moxie that can help a team make a deep run in the madness of March.