No. 4 Wisconsin received a fitting welcome to the Big Ten season three games in, outlasting Purdue 62-55 in an ugly, competitive game Wednesday.
“Everybody on both sides … is going to sleep well tonight. That was a lot of energy,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “Whoever said basketball had to be pretty? Nobody.”
The Badgers (3-0 Big Ten, 15-1 overall) won the game at the free-throw line. Wisconsin made 25 of its 31 free throw attempts, while the Boilermakers (2-1, 10-6) attempted seven. Converting only three did not help Purdue’s chances either.
“Getting to the line 31 times is a good recipe for success,” redshirt senior Josh Gasser said. “We have five guys on the floor, it doesn’t matter who gets fouled, we’re confident that they’re going to knock down two.”
Purdue’s two seven-footers, freshman Isaac Haas and and junior A.J. Hammons, brought much of the physicality against Wisconsin’s own seven-footer, senior Frank Kaminsky.
The center responded by scoring 21 points in 36 minutes of action and attempting 14 free throws, all of which led his team.
Sophomore forward Nigel Hayes did not have his best game on the stat sheet, but being able to absorb some of the blow and provide his own physical play helped wear down Purdue’s big men.
“Nigel really worked in the second half to put some size and front pressure on them,” Ryan said. “They were making us work hard to get a shot and we were trying to reciprocate.”
Beyond the boxscore, Ryan also lauded the performance of his two senior guards, Gasser and Traevon Jackson. They each scored in double figures and shot over 50 percent from the field.
“They’re just tough seniors. They’ve seen a lot over the years and that really helped us tonight to be able to put this one away,” Ryan said. “It’s kind of nice to have two senior guards out there.”
The Badger offense never really clicked, with the Boilermakers leading for most of the first half. UW opened the game 2-for-10 from the field.
The beginning of the second half appeared to signal better things to come, when Gasser hit Wisconsin’s first 3-point shot since the opening three minutes of the game.
Wisconsin struggled to sustain momentum throughout the game, following its larger scoring spurts with fouls and turnovers.
However, the Badgers finally found what they were looking for at the end of the game, symbolized by more free throw attempts and a large block from Kaminsky on Haas, who didn’t make any friends at the Kohl Center after a flagrant elbow to Kaminsky’s head.
The numbers might not have been as pretty and the offense not as fluid, but it was a night of statistical milestones for the Badgers. Sam Dekker tip-slammed a missed jumpshot to eclipse the 1,000-point mark for his career, becoming the 17th Wisconsin player to do so in three seasons.
“I’m really grateful to be in this position, 1,000 points is a cool goal,” Dekker said. “We have a lot more goals to achieve this year.”
Kaminsky is only four points shy himself of reaching the same career milestone.
Ryan also earned his 159th Big Ten win, passing Walter Meanwell for the most ever by a Wisconsin coach.
“To be mentioned, as I’ve said 100 times, in that same sentence is pretty exciting,” Ryan said. “It’s a nice number. I’d like it to keep going for our guys.”
Ryan will get his chance to keep that number going at Rutgers Sunday.