Fourth-ranked Badgers dig deep, grind out win over Purdue
MADISON, Wis. — In the rough-and-tumble world of Big Ten basketball, winning ugly is worn like a badge of honor. So there is no shame, even for the clear-cut conference favorite, to walk away from a home game banged and bruised if it means adding another victory to its resume.
No. 4 Wisconsin learned that lesson Wednesday night in the Kohl Center when it narrowly edged Purdue 62-55 in a game that featured five ties and eight lead changes. The Badgers entered the contest as 16-point favorites but never led by more than seven.
"Whoever said basketball had to be pretty?" Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "Nobody. But it was a grind, and I think there’s going to be more of those in the league this year, too."
That grind has only just begun for Wisconsin (15-1, 3-0), which will surely absorb every team’s best shot given the target on the Badgers’ back. Most college basketball enthusiasts consider Wisconsin to be the runaway top-tier team in the league after reaching last year’s Final Four, with every other team battling for second. On Wednesday, Purdue played like a team with a purpose in an early-season battle for first place in the Big Ten. This coming only 16 days after Purdue (10-6, 2-1) lost its final nonconference game to Gardner-Webb.
Purdue’s biggest advantage was having two 7-foot centers at its disposal, and both players wreaked havoc in the paint. A.J. Hammons, a 7-foot junior, scored 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting. And Isaac Haas, a 7-2 freshman, added 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Those two players accounted for nearly half of the Boilermakers’ first-half points to keep the game close and send waves of nervous energy through the arena.
The Boilermakers led 12-7 early and held a 27-26 edge on Hammons’ layup with 12 seconds remaining in the first half. But it proved to be Purdue’s last lead. Badgers forward Nigel Hayes buried two free throws with one second left to push Wisconsin ahead 28-27 at halftime, although the game was close throughout.
"Every team’s good," said Badgers guard Josh Gasser, who scored 15 points. "Even though a lot of teams are a little younger or not necessarily ranked as high as they usually are, they’re still tough.
"You look at Purdue, they’re physical, play hard. . . . They’re going to give us their best shot every game. It was good to grind out a win like this. Low scoring. We had to fight adversity, stay mentally tough. That’s what we needed."
Despite the crowd imploring Wisconsin to pull away early in the second half, Purdue made life more difficult than expected. Hammons’ turnaround inside tied the game at 45-all with 6:49 remaining. But UW used a quick 9-2 run to establish all the cushion it would need. Badgers center Frank Kaminsky, who tallied a game-high 21 points, converted two free throws to break the tie and then scored in the post off a pass from Hayes.
Ryan generally considers it a successful night from 3-point range when his team averages one point for each shot attempt. But Wisconsin made only 3 of 14 long-range tries (21.4 percent) while shooting 43.6 percent from the field. Where Wisconsin won the game Wednesday was the free-throw line. UW made 25 of 31 foul shots, while Purdue hit 3 of 7.
No, Wednesday’s result wasn’t pretty. But it counted all the same as Wisconsin rolled on.
"I think everybody on both sides — coaches, players, officials, everybody that was involved — is going to sleep well tonight," Ryan said.
Ryan passes Meanwell: Ryan collected his 159th career Big Ten victory Wednesday to surpass Walter "Doc" Meanwell for the all-time program record. Meanwell coached two stints at Wisconsin, first from 1911-17 and then from 1920-34 and went 158-80 in conference games.
"When I got here in the 70s, there were still people around that knew him," Ryan said. "So I did hear some stories back in the 70s, and they were all positive. Must’ve been a heck of a guy. So to be mentioned as I’ve said 100 times in that same sentence is exciting.
"I want to thank all my assistants and players and everybody that’s a part of this. Because everybody’s had a hand in it. But it’s a nice number. I’d like it to keep going for our guys. But yeah, I’m very humbled to be mentioned with Doc Meanwell. I know he did a lot for the game, too. He did an awful lot for the game."
Dekker joins 1,000-point club: Badgers forward Sam Dekker became the 39th player in Wisconsin history to score 1,000 career points when he registered a put-back dunk in the first half. He also is the 17th UW player to reach 1,000 points in just three seasons. He finished with six points and now has 1,003 for his career.
"It’s pretty cool obviously," Dekker said. "I thank my teammates for getting me the ball. I’ve had a great opportunity here to play basketball at a great institution like this. I can’t take it for granted. I’ve had some good success with a lot of good guys and made a lot of good friends. I’m really grateful to be in this position.
"A thousand points is a cool goal. But individual goals don’t come without team success, and I think we’ve done a good job of that, working together, and we have a lot more goals to achieve this year."
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