Maryland came to the Kohl Center for the Big Ten opener for Wisconsin on Tuesday, December 7. It was a close game, but Wisconsin came out with a 64-59 win. It was Maryland’s first loss of the season. Maryland entered the game with a perfect 8-0 record and ranked No. 13. The Badgers (7-2, 1-0 Big Ten) opened league plays with a victory for the 18th time in the last 20 seasons.
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Wisconsin entered the game with a 6-2 record and was unranked. Wisconsin ranks 3rd in the Big Ten, allowing just 59.9 ppg, and 4th in 3FG defense. Badgers may be unranked but have already played five consecutive games decided by five-pointers or fewer. Wisconsin is ranked No. 77 in the NET rankings, recently beating Marquette and almost upsetting reigning national champion Kansas in the Bahamas. Under head coach Greg Gard, the Badgers are 84-50 in Big Ten play. Greg Guard begins his 8th season at Wisconsin. Guard has led the Badgers to Big Ten titles in two of the last three seasons.
“These guys have gotten a lot of experience, got their feet (held) to the fire,” Gard said, “which is what we needed. It forces growth when you have to really buckle down and play.”
Two players who stood out were Chucky Hepburn and Tyler Wahl. Wahl does it all. Wahl leads the Badgers in points (14 ppg) and rebounds (7.1 RPG). He is also 3rd in steals and 4th in assists. Hepburn is averaging 12.5 ppg with a 1.5 ast-to-turnover ratio. Hepburn is also shooting 47.5% 3FG, up from 34.8% last season. Chucky scored 19 points, with 16 coming in the first half. That makes three straight games of scoring 15 points or more.
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Junior forward Steven Crowl has also been a consistent presence for UW. He stands seven feet tall. Despite making just 15 of 25 free throws in the second half, Wisconsin played a great game. On offense, getting some second-chance points were necessary. On defense, limiting the production of Scott and Reese on the board was critical.
Maryland is exceptionally good at capitalizing on fast breaks and possession turnovers. They did a great job getting the ball down the court and quickly finding the basket. It was a tied game with less than 12 minutes in the second half when Wahl shot for two.
Junior forward Carter Gilmore brought the Badgers to a much-needed 45-43 lead with a beautiful three-pointer. Gilmore finished with seven points, three rebounds, one assist, and one block. His defense in the lane area was terrific. Freshman Connor Essegian brought the Badgers to a 48-45 lead with 7 minutes left with a corner three-pointer.
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Hepburn made a three-pointer from way outside the 3-point line to bring Wisconsin’s lead to 56-47. Carey fouled Wisconsin’s Max Klesmit, who made both free throws. Maryland came back with a three-pointer by Jahmir Young. It was 63-59 with 16 seconds left.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” said Maryland coach Kevin Willard, whose team hit 7 of 12 free-throw attempts. “We talked about it the last couple of days, their physicality on defense, especially at home. Everybody gets away with a little murder at home.”
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Hepburn led the Badgers with 13 points, and Crowl came in at a close second with 12 points. Badgers led by as many as 12 points in the opening half, then took the lead for most of the second half. The Badgers made just enough free throws to hold that lead.