The Wisconsin Badgers (11-10 Big Ten, 17-11 overall) escaped by the skin of their teeth Thursday night against the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-13 Big Ten, 11-13 overall) 75-74 after blowing an 18-point lead late in the second half.
Wisconsin held a 68-50 lead over the Nittany Lions with 7:48 left in the second half, but the Badgers hit one of their worst scoring droughts of the season at the wrong time, as Penn State hit the gas pedal to trim the lead to just a point with under a minute to play.
“I thought we got too tentative against their pressure, it made us stand around,” head coach Greg Gard said after the game. “We had some opportunities to convert against it and didn’t finish plays off tight to the rim.”
After Nate Reuvers traveled on an inbound, and a shot attempt by Johnny Davis near the rim was rejected by a pair of Nittany Lions, Penn State had the ball with the chance to win with the last possession.
Sam Sessions — who had over half of Penn State’s points over their run — took the ball up the court and got downhill on Brad Davison with the clock winding down, but Davison was able to push Sessions toward Reuvers as he threw up a shot. Sessions got the shot up, but not over Reuvers outstretched arms as it was rejected back toward the baseline.
Then Brad Davison made quite possibly the most Brad Davison play of his career with 0.8 seconds left in the game, diving out of bounds to grab the ball and calling a timeout midair to give Wisconsin possession with 0.8 seconds left.
“I just tried to force him over the ball screens and get him outside the lane to push him to Nate,” Davison said. “Nate made a really good play and blocked it to the backside, and at that time of the game you just have to do everything you can to secure the ball and get possession.”
Aleem Ford was able to execute a baseball pass down the court to Davis to kill the rest of the clock and send the Badgers through to face No. 5 Iowa for the third time this season in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
“Survive and advance, it's all about winning games right now,” Ford said after the game. “There's things to fix to negate their run at the end we’ll look at on film for tomorrow, but right now it's survive and advance.”
After a tough three game stretch against No. 5 Illinois, No. 23 Purdue and No. 5 Iowa — different week’s ranking — the Badger offense finally started to cook again.
Wisconsin shot a solid 46.3 percent from the field against Penn State — including 52.2 percent from three point range, an increase from just 37.5 percent last time out against Iowa.
“I thought [the game] was awesome, it was some of the most energy we’ve played with in a long time,” Davison said. “I thought we did a great job of making plays for ourselves and others.”
The Badgers assisted on 18 of their 25 made shots on the night, and hit 13 of their 15 free throw attempts. Every player with minutes scored at least four points on the night, and all the starters had more than seven.
Aleem Ford led the way for Wisconsin with 17 points on 6-7 shooting and nine assists, as Davison followed with 15 points and five assists.
“I just have to stay confident and find my shot, when I get a good look I have to stick it,” Ford said after the game. “It’s good to get shots going down because it shoots energy into the team, especially when you can hear guys yelling on the side.”
Wisconsin will try to keep Iowa from beating them a third time this season tomorrow night, with tip set for 8:30.
“There’s an extra appreciation for the games this week especially because of what we lost last year with the pandemic,” Gard said. “[The players] were all primed tonight, you just have to find a way to survive and move on to the next game.”