NEW YORK — After sinking a pair of free throws with four seconds to play in overtime to put Wisconsin (27-10) up two points, senior forward Nigel Hayes looked to yet again be the Badgers’ hero in March. But four seconds later, after a game-winning 3-pointer by Florida’s (26-9) Chris Chiozza, the Badgers’ March magic ran out.
Redshirt sophomore forward Ethan Happ put his hand around redshirt senior guard Zak Showalter’s back at midcourt. Senior guard Bronson Koenig turned his back away from the floor and struggled to watch UF’s celebration on the opposite corner of the floor. Head coach Greg Gard, dropped his hands to his knees. And the Wisconsin fans at Madison Square Garden went from euphoric to silent in a matter of seconds, as the Badgers fell in heartbreaking fashion, 84-83.
The Badgers couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start Friday night. After surrendering the first basket of the game to UF’s KeVaughn Allen, Wisconsin, fueled by hot-shooting and a 2-of-12 cold streak from the Gators, used an early 13-2 run to grab a 16-6 lead just under seven minutes into the game.
Hayes missed his first two field goal attempts, but converted his next four — all jump shots — as the senior forward finished the first half with nine points. But Hayes picked up his second foul of the game with 4:25 to play in the half, and UW’s seven-point lead quickly evaporated.
Nine first-half turnovers, Hayes’ absence and a field goal drought of more than five minutes allowed the Gators to crawl back into the game. Allen came alive for the Gators as well, scoring 13 of his 15 first half points in the final 6:15 of the period as UF took a 34-32 lead into the locker room.
Showalter opened the scoring for UW at the start of the second half, but a flurry of Florida baskets coupled with poor offensive play from the Badgers gave UF an 8-point lead with 16:28 to play.
Florida stretched its lead to 10 with 14:53 left, but consecutive baskets by Hayes and Koenig cut UF’s lead back to six points with 13:17 to play. The Badgers, led by Hayes, would continue to claw back into the game.
The senior forward from Toledo, Ohio scored five consecutive points during an 8-0 UW run as the Badgers regained the lead 53-52 with 10:21 to play.
But the Gators would immediately answer with a 9-0 run of their own, turning a one-point deficit into an eight-point lead.
With 7:10 to play, Brown picked up his fifth foul fighting for an offensive rebound. And with UW down eight, Brown slowly walked to the Badgers' bench with a sweat towel tightly grasped in his hands and no choice but to watch UW’s season, and in turn, his career, conclude.
Happ, sitting with four fouls on UW’s bench, could do little to stop the bleeding as well. Allen continued to bury 3-pointers en route to his 32-point night, as the Badgers struggled to muster a fight on offense.
But even with a 10-point deficit with less than four minutes to play, the Badgers wouldn’t go away. With 90 seconds left in regulation, Wisconsin would cut UF’s lead to just five after a 3-pointer by Koenig. And after a crucial stop, a putback by Happ cut UF’s lead to merely three with 44 seconds to play.
With 6.5 second left, Showalter nailed a running, one-legged 3-pointer, sending the Badger fans in Madison Square Garden into an all-out frenzy. The redshirt senior guard’s miraculous heave tied the game at 72, and brought new life to what was at times a lifeless Wisconsin team.
Though the Badgers fell behind by a point only three seconds into the extra session, it didn’t take long for Wisconsin to answer. Fueled by tight defense and just enough production on offense, Wisconsin led by four points with 2:24 to play. The Gators cut UW’s lead to three with just over a minute to play, but a pair of free throws by Showalter extended the Badgers’ lead to five.
But in overtime, it was the Gators that wouldn’t go away. Allen slashed Wisconsin’s lead to three with 47 seconds to play. After Happ split a pair of free throws, Florida’s Canyon Barry made his pair, cutting UW’s lead back to two. After a block by Barry and a layup by Chiozza, the game was again tied.
Hayes seemingly put the Badgers ahead for good when he sunk a pair of free throws with 4.0 seconds remaining in overtime, but Chiozza took the ensuing inbounds pass the length of the floor and pulled up for a running 3-pointer of his own.
Chiozza’s shot fell as time expired and Wisconsin’s victory and place in the Elite Eight quickly vanished.
Hayes led the Badgers with 22 points and Happ added 21. Showalter finished with 14 points, all in the second half, and Koenig finished with 13.
But the Badgers, needing one more stop to continue their season, fell just short.