The Penn State men's basketball team moved closer to making its first NCAA tournament since 2001 by beating the Badgers Sunday, something the Nittany Lions haven't accomplished in 8 years.. Led by four starting seniors and with a tenacious defensive effort, the Nittany Lions outlasted Wisconsin 56-52, defeating their fourth-straight Big Ten foe at home.
It was all Badgers in the first half, who were exemplary both offensively and defensively. Penn State struggled to get anything going as Wisconsin shut down passing lanes, forced turnovers and suffocated shooters. Penn State senior guard Talor Battle shot a dismal 1-5 from the field while Wisconsin's interior defense held senior forward Jeff Brooks to just five points. The Nittany Lions shot 33 percent from the field, including a disappointing 2-7 from downtown.
""We couldn't get shots in; we couldn't get any rhythm,"" Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis said.
Wisconsin matched its stellar defense with a solid performance on the offensive end in the first half. Junior guard Jordan Taylor, a Bob Cousy Award finalist for the best point guard in the country and the nation's leader in assist to turnover ratio, scored 12 points and looked comfortable running Bo Ryan's swing offense.
""I thought we had some really good looks,"" Wisconsin head coach Ryan said. ""It was one of those days.""
Not only were they good looks, but they were also falling. The Badgers shot 54 percent in the first half and found the stroke from deep as well, knocking down 42 percent of their three-point attempts. Senior forward Jon Leuer, a Big Ten Player of the Year Candidate, was efficient from the post, shooting 5-7 from the field. Leuer finished with a team-high 18 points, while Taylor chipped in 16.
Wisconsin entered the Bryce Jordan Arena with a 12-1 record when leading at the break, but Saturday's game quickly became a tale of two halves.
""They got off to a hot start. They threw the first punch,"" said senior forward Andrew Jones, who grabbed 10 rebounds in the second half, . ""I think that we reacted pretty well. As the game went on, we settled in.""
Penn State did more than settle in; they dominated the second half. A switch flipped in the locker room. The Nittany Lions came out for the final twenty minutes inspired, aggressive and focused.
Wisconsin couldn't hold Battle's talents in check the second half. When the Nittany Lions needed their senior star most, he delivered. Battle went 6-11 from the field in the second half and nailed three shots from beyond the arc, including a triple that gave Penn State its first lead of the game with 10:51 to go in the second half. Battle finished with 22 points.
An even larger factor in Penn State's comeback was the Nittany Lions' relentless defensive play. Brooks recorded game highs with two blocks and three steals, as Wisconsin shot 32 percent in the second half and a frustrating 3-13 from three-point range.
""We played well in the second half; we held them to 23 points,"" DeChellis said. ""We challenged some shots and played with better energy.""
The Badgers will have to forget about Penn State quickly as they prepare to face No. 12 Purdue at the Kohl Center Tuesday.
—uwbadgers.com contributed to this report.