STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The last 48 hours weren’t easy for the Wisconsin Badgers who had all day Sunday plus a long flight into Happy Valley on Monday to stew over their worst home loss in nearly two decades.
Penn State nearly extended that misery, but a potential go-ahead 3-pointer by Tony Carr bounced off the rim with two seconds to play and the Badgers held on for a 64-63 win.
“It’s nice to see a bounce back and look like a Wisconsin team should look,” Badgers coach Greg Gard said.
Khalil Iverson scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half, Nate Reuvers added 11 points and Ethan Happ grabbed 10 rebounds for the Badgers (4-5, 1-1 Big Ten), who snapped a two-game losing streak.
Mike Watkins scored a career-high 22 points for the Nittany Lions (7-3, 1-1 Big Ten) who battled back from a 17-point deficit with 9:40 to play. Carr added 16 points and Shep Garner made 13 for the Nittany Lions who were trying for their first 2-0 start in conference play since 2007.
Penn State played its third game, and first at home, in six days and struggled to shoot the ball for most of the night. The Nittany Lions made just 9 of 26 field goals in the first half, trailed 31-25 at halftime and were just 3-for-21 over the final 1:50 of the first and the first 10 minutes of the second.
“We dug a little deeper because we looked very sluggish in the first half,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.
The Badgers led 51-36 with 9:40 to play, but Garner drained back-to-back jumpers shortly thereafter to spark a 21-9 run that cut Wisconsin’s lead to 60-57 with 1:53 left.
A pair of Garner free throws with less than a minute to play made it a one-point game before the teams traded free throws over the final 43 seconds. D’Mitrik Trice closed it out at the line on 4-of-4 shooting for the Badgers.
“I knew we’d have to be really dialed-in and gritty and persevere,” Gard said. “I expected the whole game to be like the last four minutes and fortunately we were able to make enough plays and get enough stops to hang on.”
BUILT FORD TOUGH
Carr got his shot after forward Aleem Ford bounced the game’s final free throw off the rim on the other end of the floor. He didn’t get another chance thanks in part to Ford’s hustle to get back on defense.
When Carr’s shot rang off the rim, it took a bounce toward a Penn State player in the corner. Ford grabbed hold of the ball to force a jump ball and prevent the Nittany Lions from getting any kind of chance.
Ford’s late recovery came in the absence of usual post presences Happ and Davison, who both had fouled out.
“He really hustled for that loose ball,” Gard said. “There were a lot of winning plays, so to speak that were made. “We need to make better decisions down the stretch so that it doesn’t get to that point.”
Chambers had no issue with Carr, who was just 5-for-22 from the field, pulling up for the final 3-pointer even though Penn State’s crafty point guard might’ve had room toward the hoop.
The clock was ticking and Chambers trusts his leading scorer who entered the game with 20.6 points per game, 39 assists and 19-for-32 from 3-point range.
“Whatever Tony thought,” Chambers said. “I’m not in his vision. I’m on the sideline. I don’t know what he saw but he’s a heck of a player and he makes really good decisions. So I’m going to trust that decision.”
TOUGH STATS TO SWALLOW
Wisconsin’s bench chipped in 25 points to Penn State’s one.
Meanwhile, of Penn State’s 29 misses, 11 were layups that didn’t fall.
THE BIG PICTURE
Wisconsin: The Badgers are the only team to have played four ranked opponents so far and were tied or within a basket with two minutes left in three of those games. They looked better than their record inside the Bryce Jordan Center, matching Penn State’s physical play throughout and frustrating Penn State’s shooters all night.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions continue to play solid defense, but those stingy efforts will be for nothing if Penn State’s shooters continue to miss like they did early and midway through against the Badgers. Penn State finished 26 for 50 from the floor.
Wisconsin concludes a three-day trip through the Keystone State at Temple (4-2) on Wednesday.
Penn State hosts George Washington (4-4) on Saturday.