Men's basketball

First-half shooting slump dooms Wisconsin in historic home loss to rival Minnesota

Despite clutch late shots from sophomore guard D'Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin lost 84-80 to Purdue in overtime. 

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Wisconsin made history Thursday night.

It wasn’t the paltry 14 points that the No. 22 Badgers (2-1 Big Ten, 10-4 overall) finished the first half with, or the 11 turnovers, or the 17 three-point attempts they clanked throughout the night — Though none of those things helped.

For the first time since at least the 1949-50 season, a ranked Wisconsin team lost to Minnesota (2-1 Big Ten, 12-2 overall) at home, 59-52. It was just the second time the Badgers fell to their biggest rivals in the Kohl Center, and it came on the heels of a sloppy post-Christmas loss at Western Kentucky.

For now, it seems that holiday hangover hasn’t worn off just yet.

The Badgers dug a massive hole for themselves in the first half, shooting just 23.1 percent from the field and at one point going over nine minutes without a made basket. 

For much of the first period, Minnesota bailed the home team out, as it led just 11-6 with nine minutes and 46 seconds remaining in the half. The Gophers pushed on from that point however, ripping off a 9-0 run to bring them to an ultimate 29-14 lead at the break.

“It just puts so much pressure on your defense when you’re not able to score,” head coach Greg Gard said after the game.

His players did that a bit better in the second half, outscoring the Gophers 38-30 in the period. But the Badgers couldn’t avoid their biggest pitfalls after forcing themselves to play catch-up.

Wisconsin shot just 41.2 percent from the free throw line in the second half — and the game, as they attempted zero first-half free throws — and ended the night with turnovers on three straight possessions after cutting the deficit to just four.

Those self-inflicted wounds continue to sting a team who appears to be talented and experienced on the surface. But it doesn’t help when your best player can’t shoot free throws very well, and the Gophers employed a savvy Hack-a-Happ strategy to usher Wisconsin’s star man to a one of seven performance at the line.

The Badgers were more competent in the second half, but that wasn’t enough after their lowest scoring half since 1999, a performance that Gard called “anemic.”

Sure, there were some frustrated, forced shots but Wisconsin largely created decent looks from deep.

“They were good looks and we’re gonna take ‘em any game,” senior forward Ethan Happ said after the game. “So that’s just frustrating that they weren’t falling for us."

The Badgers can and will have better shooting days, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have a consistent marksman to bail them out of tough spots on any given occasion.

Early in the season, sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice looked to be that player, and his three-point percentage is still just a hair under 49 percent after Thursday’s loss. But squint a bit closer, and Trice looks more like a player falling back to earth after a scorching hot start then one simply going through a slump.

After shooting 58.3 percent from three-point land through eight games in November, Trice has shot just 34.4 percent in the last six games in December and January. Trice shot nearly 42 percent from deep as a true freshman, but his attempts per game have more than doubled since then. He’ll show whether or not his early season form was an aberration in the coming months.

For now, the Badgers will be looking to make history in a more positive manner.

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