Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the Wisconsin Badgers have lost a heartbreaker.
The Marquette Golden Eagles took down the 4th-ranked Badgers Friday night in spectacular fashion as freshman Justin Lewis tipped in a buzzer-beating shot off of a missed free throw from sophomore guard D.J. Carton.
Shortly after the game, fans and journalists flocked to Twitter to point out what seemed like a glaring mistake. The clock operator seemingly stopped the game clock before Carton made contact with senior guard D’Mitrik Trice, which led to two free throws with 0.9 seconds left. Had this been properly timed, it is possible that Lewis’ last-second tip-in would have occurred after the buzzer, in which case the Badgers would have had five more minutes to try and take down their in-state rivals.
But of course, this is not what happened, and the game ended with a baby blue dogpile underneath the Golden Eagles’ hoop. And, of course, to insist that the Badgers lost solely because of a clock mishap would be lazy and incorrect.
In addition, some keen-eyed Twitter users noted that the FOX Sports broadcast may have been ahead of the actual game clock for some reason, which could explain the mishap. So, the controversy and outrage from Badger fans turned out to be nothing in the end.
The Badgers started out hot from a few spots they normally don’t hit from early in games: the free throw line and three-point range. Though the 4th-ranked Badgers started out hot (or at the very least, hotter than in their game against Green Bay), the offense quickly stagnated due to foul trouble.
"We gave up a lot of things to the rim early," said Head Coach Greg Gard postgame. "[We] put them at the free throw line too much the whole game."
Wisconsin’s backup bigs had trouble guarding Marquette forward Theo John. Though John only shot 1-3 from the field and 0-3 from the free throw line, his presence was felt in the paint, especially by freshman forward Ben Carlson. Later in the game, he would repeatedly get the best of Micah Potter as well.
Wisconsin committed 11 fouls in the first half and shot under 36% from the field. Potter, Nate Reuvers, and Brad Davison had two fouls, and guard Tyler Wahl added two of his own. An 8-0 run towards the end of the half gave the Badgers a three-point lead that the Golden Eagles quickly took back. Thanks in part to a last-second three-pointer from D.J. Carton, Marquette took a 35-30 lead into the locker room. Point guard D’Mitrik Trice led the game in scoring going into halftime with 11 points, but shot just 4-10 and had two turnovers as well.
Despite the Fiserv Forum sound operators playing Faneto by Chief Keef out of the break to hype up the Golden Eagles, the Badgers came out firing with a 5-0 run in under two minutes. During this run, Marquette nearly doubled its foul total from the first half in just one minute of game time.
"We came out well, I think in that second half after sitting for a while," said Reuvers postgame. "But the game kind of got away from us at the end."
The rest of the second half was more or less a repeat of the first half, meaning that it was a rock fight where neither team could pull away. A late three ball from senior forward Aleem Ford gave the Badgers a three-point lead with just a minute left, but they were not able to keep that lead due to the speed of Carton and poor help defense late in the game.
Trice did manage to hit a tough midrange shot with just five seconds left to give the Badgers a one-point lead. At this moment in time, ESPN Win Probability gave the Badgers an 88% chance to take a win back to Madison. Just seconds later, though, Trice made what he called a “bone-headed play” postgame and tried to take a charge against Carton. Carton hit the first free throw to tie the game, but missed the second. Of course, Lewis was able to push Potter out of the way for his game-winning tip-in.
"We talk a lot about defending, rebounding, and taking care of the ball," said head coach Greg Gard postgame. "Three areas where I thought we were not where we needed to be tonight. And obviously credit to Marquette for doing that."
Potter is seen as Wisconsin’s more physical big man, but that was not shown tonight. He was repeatedly bested on the offensive side of the ball by forward Theo John, who is a full two inches shorter than Potter. Other than his missed box-out at the end of the game, a vicious block by Lewis on his shot was Potter’s most memorable play from this game.
Reuvers, and likely the rest of this veteran Badger team, are already looking to put this game behind them.
"I've had these losses every year I've been here," said Reuvers. "Early on, you get a tough one, you lose. How can you build from it? Look at some of the weaknesses we had in that game and how we move forward and start playing our best basketball. Come March, we want to be ready to go and compete for a title."
The Badgers are set to play the Louisville Cardinals next Wednesday, but COVID-19 cases in Louisville’s program have already put the game in jeopardy. If that game gets cancelled, the Badgers would have to wait until Wednesday, Dec. 16 for their next game against mid-major sleeper Northern Iowa.