Talor Battle looked better than anyone else on the ugliest night in Big Ten tournament history.
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Or at least he scored when nobody else could.
The record-breaking guard finished with a team-high nine points Friday, hitting a three-pointer and a free throw in the closing minutes to give Penn State a 36-33 victory over No. 13 Wisconsin in the lowest-scoring game in the event’s 14 years.
And it wasn’t even close.
The previous tourney low was 85 points, set in 2008 when Wisconsin beat Michigan 51-34. The Badgers have been involved in four of the tourney’s six lowest-scoring games, though none of the others looked as though they should have been played in the era of peach baskets and set shots.
”We won a game two years ago, 38-33 over Illinois, so we’re pretty good in the 30s,” Battle said.
That’s not what the fans at Conseco Fieldhouse expected to see Friday night, and it’s certainly not what the nation wants to see in next week’s NCAA tournament.
But if the Nittany Lions win Saturday’s semifinal against Michigan State, the selection committee might have to think about putting surging Penn State (18-13) in the 68-team field anyway. The Spartans defeated No. 9 Purdue 74-56 earlier Friday.
The Nittany Lions have won two straight tourney games for the first time in school history, though it may be advisable to avoid watching the replay on tape.
”It wasn’t boring to me,” Tim Frazier said with a laugh. ”Every possession meant that much more to us. Every single play was that much more meaningful. It wasn’t boring at all to us.”
Still, it was inexplicable.
The Badgers came to Indianapolis hoping to face No. 1 Ohio State a third time. Instead, they left with long faces and dumbfounded looks trying to figure out what went wrong.
Top scorers Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor struggled all night, and it took nearly 36 minutes for Wisconsin (23-8) to get a third player in the scoring column. Taylor finished with 16 points and, fittingly, missed a potential tying three with 1.9 seconds to go. Leuer had 10 points.
The third-seeded Badgers, who lost their second straight for the first time in more than two years, were just 15 of 51 from the field and a dismal 2 of 21 from beyond the arc. Plus, backup forward Mike Bruesewitz went straight to the locker room after hurting his right leg diving for a loose ball.
He limped across the court afterward with ice on his knee.
How bad was this night?
”It’s the story of the coach who asked one of his players how his grades went, and the kid said, ‘Three Fs and a D,”’ Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. ”You know the answer the coach came back with? He says, ‘You spent way too much time on one class.”’
Sixth-seeded Penn State wasn’t much better offensively. The Nittany Lions finished 13 of 39 from the field and 3 of 12 from three-point range.
Battle did break the school’s scoring record, which Jesse Arnelle set in 1955. Battle has 2,141 points, and on Friday night his nine points were good enough.
The Nittany Lions (18-13) sure didn’t expect things to turn out this way after opening the game by making four of their first five shots, scoring 14 straight points and taking an 18-2 lead with 9:58 left in the first half.
”If you had told me that we would have only 36 points after our start, I probably would have said no way,” coach Ed DeChellis said. ”We didn’t try to slow it down, we just really got out of rhythm and really had no flow. It’s just one of those things, and hopefully we’ll score a couple of more points tomorrow night.”
Wisconsin, meanwhile, looked more like the team that was blown out Sunday at No. 1 Ohio State than a Big Ten contender. The Badgers missed their first eight shots and many weren’t even close. Taylor threw up an airball on a three, and Leuer’s shots repeatedly bounded high into the air.
It was downright ugly.
Yet, somehow, Wisconsin managed to hang around after the dreadful start and when Taylor made back-to-back baskets, the Badgers were within 20-13. Penn State didn’t even make a basket over the final 9:57 of the half and still led 20-16.
Wisconsin’s defense gave Penn State problems in the second half, too, and when Taylor banked in a five-footer with 12:50 to go, the Badgers had finally tied it at 24.
But it was Battle who delivered the knockout punch.
He scored on a layup with a 5:29 left, then hit a three with 2:23 to go and finally sank one of two free throws with 11 seconds left to give Penn State a 36-33 lead.
Taylor’s miss and Frazier’s rebound sealed it.
”All jokes aside, I wasn’t even caught up in the score,” Battle said. ”I was just so focused on trying to win and make the plays.”