Men's basketball

Wisconsin writes a new script in comeback win over No. 21 Maryland

Sophomore guard Brad Davison was Wisconsin's emotional spark all night, and fed off the energy of the Kohl Center crowd during Wisconsin's second-half comeback.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Just when it seemed a raucous Kohl Center could scream no more, sophomore guard Brad Davison grasped the the ball with both hands, riling up the crowd into yet another round of cheers. He paced around the floor, reveling in a victory that could hardly have been sweeter.

What a difference three weeks makes.

After a heartbreaking loss in College Park 18 days earlier, Wisconsin paid back the Terrapins with a 69-61 victory. With their fifth-straight win, the Badgers took over fourth place in the Big Ten while topping last season’s win total with nine games left on the regular-season slate. 

Though they avoided a 15-point first half this time, the Badgers (8-3 Big Ten, 16-6 overall) relied on a similar comeback against Maryland (8-4, 17-6) Friday night. A three-point blizzard had come up just short in the second half of the first matchup, and Wisconsin leaned on the triple yet again. Junior guard Brevin Pritzl, sophomore forward Aleem Ford and Davison hit monumental threes to help keep the game close and eventually pull into the lead. 

This time, the Terrapins were unable to weather the storm in spite of terrific long-range shooting of their own.

Davison scored 21 points, including 14 in the last 10 minutes and 23 seconds of regulation. Ford, who hadn’t scored since the upset win over Michigan two weeks ago, was forced into action when sophomore forward Nate Reuvers got into foul trouble and scored eight points in the final 13 minutes to provide a boost. He missed several shots early but continued to shoot, all with the blessing of his coach. 

“He looked over at me once after he missed a shot, and I said, ‘What are you looking at me for?'” head coach Greg Gard said. 

Fortunately for Badgers fans, Ford finished stronger than he started, and his teammates continued to give him the ball.

Senior center Ethan Happ scored 18 points with 11 rebounds. A huge hustle play in the second half to save the ball helped preserve the lead, as Happ went flying into the scorers’ table. Though slow to get up, he was able to see the game out. 

“Ethan Happ’s pretty special,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon explained, adding to a chorus of encomiums from opposing coaches this year. 

“Ethan Happ was Ethan Happ,” Gard said. 

Though he only scored seven points, sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice demonstrated grit and resilience. After missing his first three shots and committing two turnovers early in the first half, he was sent to the bench. An irate Gard laid into his floor general. Trice bounced off the bench to knock down a three and never turned the ball over again — in fact, Wisconsin didn’t turn it over a single time after halftime. Trice helped put the game on ice with a mid-range jumper to give his team a 66-56 lead with 81 seconds left to play.

When asked about his conversation with Trice, Gard said, “He turned it over twice in the first half, and we talked about that — well, he didn’t talk, I talked.” He added, “It’s a credit to him to keep coming back and persevering.”

Six Maryland triples in the first half, including three from Ayala, were enough to give the Terrapins a nine-point lead. They hit six of their first nine shots from beyond the arc. Ayala finished with a team-high 18 points.

A Brevin Pritzl triple with under two seconds to play in the half gave Wisconsin the momentum. The Badgers entered the locker room feeling far better than they had 18 days ago. In the Jan. 14 loss, Wisconsin trailed 33-15 at the half. They trailed again this time, falling behind by nine two separate times before coming back to make it 36-31.

Fernando, who only played 21 minutes in the last matchup, again got into foul trouble early in the second half Friday, but his return with 10 minutes to play seemed a major inflection point in the contest. He was able to assert his will, logging 25 minutes and frequently outmuscling Happ and Reuvers to the tune of 13 points and 10 rebounds. His physical dominance, it seemed, would make the difference. Reuvers, for his part, didn’t register a point, fouling out after a scrum under the hoop.

The free-throw shooting statistics also swung in Wisconsin’s favor this time. Maryland entered the game ranked best in the conference in free-throw shooting and had shot 150 more from the line than their opponents on the year. They attempted 29 free throws in the win in mid-January, converting 24 of them. On this occasion they went only three-for-eight from the charity stripe. The Badgers, on the other hand, attempted 23 and made 14. Ethan Happ and Khalil Iverson attempted UW’s first 15 shots from the line, making nine of them. Happ hit five out of seven in a personal 7-0 run to tie the game early in the second half. To the relief of Badgers fans, Davison took over free-throw shooting as the game wound down. 

Turgeon bemoaned, “Tonight, what’s happened all year didn’t happen.” 

Two road tests loom for Wisconsin, which faces another revenge game against rival Minnesota on Wednesday. The Gophers secured a seven-point victory at the Kohl Center early last month. After that, UW will head to Ann Arbor to take on a No. 5 Michigan team that just lost to Iowa on the road. 

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