BUFFALO, N.Y. — Bronson Koenig made a school-record eight 3-pointers and scored 28 points and Nigel Hayes added 16 as NCAA Tournament-tested Wisconsin advanced in the East Region with an 84-74 victory over Virginia Tech on Thursday night.
The eighth-seeded Badgers (26-9) made all the big plays in the closing minutes to set up a meeting with top-seeded Villanova on Saturday. The Wildcats shook off a sluggish and strange first half and downed Mount St. Mary’s 76-56.
No team understands the survive-and-advance mentality in this tourney better than Wisconsin, the only team in the country to make the Sweet 16 last three years.
And the Badgers counted on Koenig and Hayes, two of their four senior starters, to get them within one win of another trip to the third round.
Zach Leday scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half to pace the ninth-seeded Hokies (22-11), making their first NCAA visit since 2007.
Wisconsin has won 12 NCAA games in the past four tournaments, a testament to the Badgers’ consistency and Koenig and Hayes have helped push the Big Ten power among the nation’s elite programs.
Koenig’s seventh 3-pointer — and fourth of the second half — put the Badgers ahead 63-59 with 8:21 remaining, and he dropped another one a few minutes later, that shot hitting the front of the rim and bouncing off the backboard before dropping through the net.
He couldn’t miss, but while Koenig did his damage from the outside for Wisconsin, the Hokies attacked inside with Leday muscling for layups off nice feeds from Seth Allen and Justin Robinson.
Virginia Tech was still within 74-73 when Hayes scored underneath and completed a three-point play to give Wisconsin a little breathing room.
After Allen missed a 3, Koenig was off the mark but junior Ethan Happ scored on a putback, giving Wisconsin a 79-73 lead. Virginia Tech missed a few deep shots and Hayes came up with a huge tap-back rebound before Koenig was fouled and dropped both free throws to make it 81-74.
Ty Outlaw scored 16 points and Robinson had 11 for the Hokies. Allen shook off a toe injury and finished with 10, but was only 3 of 10 from the field.
The Badgers have played in 19 straight NCAA tournaments and improved to 15-3 in the round of 64 since 2000.
Hokies coach Buzz Williams said watching Wisconsin was like looking at ACC rival Virginia.
“They would be the only team that we’ve played that’s similar in philosophy, relative to pace of play, relative to their defensive thoughts,” Williams said. “This Wisconsin team throws it inside much more than this Virginia team, but that’s personnel-specific. Wisconsin’s played 34 games and three of their 34 games they’ve had 70 possessions. Three. We played 32 games and we’ve had 15 games that have had 70 or more possessions. The three games for Wisconsin that have had 70 possessions in it were all in overtime.
“And so just that in and of itself is very-UVA like.”
Virginia Tech and Virginia split two regular-season games.
Wisconsin: With Koenig and Hayes, the Badgers have the necessary know how to make another deep run.
Virginia Tech: Williams has quickly turned around the Hokies program in just three years as they have moved themselves up the ladder in the ACC.
Wisconsin: A date with the tourney’s top-seeded team.