KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Wisconsin (23-12 overall) found itself unable to score down the stretch and watched as Mississippi (27-8) finished on a 27-10 run over the final 11:35 to pull off a 57-46 upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite struggling from the floor, the Badgers were in control midway through the second half. After freshman forward Sam Dekker picked up a steal and converted it into a layup, Wisconsin had equaled its largest lead of the game at 36-30 with just 11:49 remaining. But on the ensuing Rebel possession, Dekker was charged with his second foul trying to chase Ole Miss junior guard Marshall Henderson off a screen.
After the media timeout that followed, Dekker was removed from the game and Ole Miss responded with a quick 10-3 run before Dekker was put back into the game with 7:51 remaining. Wisconsin lost its lead over that four-minute span, trailing 40-39, and the score would never get back to even.
“They didn’t handle the physicality in the last five to seven minutes,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “To me it seemed like the game changed and our guys didn’t react as well as [Ole Miss] did.”
Henderson, a media sensation thanks to some on- and off-court antics, finished with 19 points, just shy of his 20-point average. However, it took him 21 shots in order to get his point total. Henderson did, however, finish by making five of his final eight shots after missing 12 in a row during the middle of the game. His consecutive 3-pointers after the Dekker foul got Mississippi rolling and, from there, the Rebels would never look back.
“Because we let them hang around they were able to make a run,” junior guard Ben Brust said. “They are a team that is capable of doing that and they did it.”
But Friday was more about the dismal Badger offensive effort than it was a breakout performance from the SEC tournament champions. Wisconsin finished the game just 15-of-59 from the field (25.4 percent), including 7-of-30 (23.3 percent) from 3-point range.
“[We’re] not a team that really shot the ball well all year,” Ryan said. “And it happened again.”
Despite a shaky first half that saw UW turn the ball over eight times and shoot just 30 percent, Wisconsin had several opportunities to blow the game open early in the second half. The Badgers had four different chances to score with a six-point lead, coming up empty each time and leaving the door open for Henderson to lead the Rebels on the game-winning run.
“We had looks, we had the chances to pull away from this team,” Dekker said. “With a good team like that, things will spiral away from you.”
Despite Wisconsin having reached the Sweet 16 in the two years prior to Friday’s defeat, many will point to the result as proof that Ryan’s system of so-called “Wisconsin basketball” simply isn’t good enough to succeed in the NCAA Tournament.
But Friday was not Wisconsin basketball on display. The Badgers turned the ball over 11 times and allowed 11 second-chance points, none bigger than the triple Henderson knocked down to tie the game at 36 with 9:45 remaining.
Beyond the missed shots and turnovers, Wisconsin was outhustled down the stretch. The Badgers were unable to finish off defensive stops and allowed Mississippi to impose its will inside the paint, finishing with a 30-16 advantage inside.
“They just outworked us there the last eight to nine minutes,” Dekker said. “We didn’t know how to handle it.”
This was an upset loss in the making for Wisconsin. Although the Badgers were the trendy pick to make a deep run through the West region, UW had yet to find an answer for its all-too-common offensive woes. Beyond finding itself unable to score for long stretches throughout the season, Wisconsin had not taken care of the ball the way Badger teams have in recent years, finishing the Big Ten regular season minus-nine in turnovers just two years after nearly setting an NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio.
The shooting struggles and turnovers ultimately led to an early exit from the NCAA Tournament and yet another disappointing end to what could have been a memorable season for UW.
“At the end of the year you would think those things have been corrected,” Dekker said. “There are peaks and valleys to a basketball season. We hit one of those valleys today