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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Court Storm Pre Purdue Happ

On Feb. 15, Frank Kaminsky night, UW pulled off its biggest win of the the season, stunning then-No. 6 Purdue 57-53.

Badgers create magical moment against Purdue with Frank the Tank by their side

In many ways, Frank Kaminsky was a perfect storm of basketball ability. We can only speculate what the basketball gods were thinking as they poured pinpoint passing, lights-out shooting and sensational footwork into the former Badger’s seven-foot frame. Frank the Tank was a special talent.

So it was only fitting that on the night the Wisconsin men’s basketball team (5-10 Big Ten, 12-16 overall) raised his No. 44 jersey to the rafters to join Ab Nicholas’ No. 8, the Badgers put on a show.

A perfect storm of lockdown defense, timely shots and clutch free-throw shooting spurred UW to a 57-53 stunner over No. 6 Purdue (12-3, 23-5). On a night that perfectly encapsulated Kaminsky’s time in Madison, the Badgers put together one final memory with Frank the Tank by their side.

The Badgers struggled to score early, as has become a Madison tradition this year, but it was clear from the start that there was something different in the air. UW didn’t immediately find itself in a double-digit hole five minutes into the game, the way it had in its previous two home outings.

Trailing by three with eight minutes to go in the first half, redshirt sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl found the ball in his hands, standing at the tip of the Motion W at center court with six seconds on the shot clock.

He pulled the trigger, buried the shot and the Kohl Center blew up. 20 seconds later, he snatched the ball from the ever-steady hands of Vincent Edwards and finished with a reverse layup on the other end to give UW its first lead of the night, 14-12.

The two teams traded blows for the remainder of the half, as Purdue produced its lowest single-half scoring output of the season and the score was knotted, 21-21, headed into the locker rooms.

To that point in the game, the Badgers had struggled to put the ball in the basket, sinking just 30 percent of their 30 shot attempts. Redshirt junior forward Ethan Happ missed several shots at the rim, finishing just 3-of-11 from the floor in the opening period.

The game remained perilously tight into the second half until freshman guard Brad Davison took a one-dribble, side-step fadeaway into the corner that found nothing but net and put UW up 32-29. The path to an upset was beginning to clear up.

But Boilermaker head coach Matt Painter quickly pivoted to a full-court press spearheaded by freshman guard Nojel Eastern, who quickly earned himself two old-fashioned 3-pointers and powered a 10-0 Purdue run that gave his team a 39-32 lead with 9:37 to play.

Not to be outdone, the Badgers refocused and went on a 10-0 spurt of their own highlighted by a powerful two-handed slam from junior forward Khalil Iverson. They held serve for the final 3:38 and the Grateful Red stormed the court alongside Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Nigel Hayes and several other former Badgers in attendance for Kaminsky’s jersey retirement.The Boilermakers were held to their lowest scoring output since the 2014-’15 season — Kaminsky’s final year in Madison — in what Badgers’ head coach Greg Gard told the team was one of the best defensive performances UW has ever seen.

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“We saw a lot of what doesn't work in West Lafayette, both from a defensive standpoint and how you need to take care of the ball,” he said. “I've seen a lot of really good defensive efforts. This probably ranks right up there.”

UW certainly took care of the ball as well. After a season-high 20 turnovers in their previous matchup with Purdue — including seven apiece from Happ and Davison — the Badgers gave away just nine possessions and surrendered a paltry four offensive rebounds.

Happ finished with another double-double — 21 points and 12 rebounds — and vaulted himself into Wisconsin’s top ten all-time scoring list, passing the honoree, Kaminsky, in the process. Davison followed his lead with 16 points on an efficient 5-of-9 shooting and was the only Badger to sink more than one 3-pointer.

Iverson and Pritzl each chipped in strong defensive performances, combining for 16 rebounds. Iverson himself registered three highlight blocks, two of which sent the ball careening into the stands and the last of which came on a Carsen Edwards 3-pointer in the game’s final minutes.

"I flipped Khalil on [Edwards] when I thought Brad was getting tired," Gard said. "I hadn't seen a 3-point shot blocked in a critical time since Jordan Taylor blocked Jacob Pullen's in the NCAA Tournament."

Among all the words that were shouted as Badger fans flooded onto the court after the final buzzer sounded, amid the pandemonium and exuberance at the Kohl Center, one word stuck out above the rest: special.

“It was very special. To have Frank and Sam back, who I played with for a year, and Nigel and Bronson, who we shed blood and tears with for two years together on the court, it was surreal to have those guys there for this,” Happ said. “[Kaminsky] took me under his wing that first year and it's very special just to get this done for those guys.

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