What better birthday gift to give your head coach than a rivalry win? This is exactly what Greg Garg received on behalf of his players, as the Badgers went to Milwaukee and inched out a victory over the Marquette Golden Eagles in overtime, 80-77.
The I-94 rivalry game tipped off Saturday afternoon at Marquette. Going into Saturday’s matchup, Wisconsin led Marquette 69-59 in all-time matchup wins, and neither team had lost at home in the rivalry since 2016. The birthday boy and company aimed to break the streak.
The same starting five — Chucky Hepburn, Max Klesmit, Jordan Davis, Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl — took the floor against the Golden Eagles in the 129th edition of the I-94 rivalry.
Both teams started off hot in the first half, as Hepburn picked his shooting up right where he left it against the tough loss to Wake Forest — quickly recording five of his 19 total points. Wahl and Crowl soon got comfortable as well, as they both continued to add on to their recent dominant scoring and rebounding performances.
Even with the early offensive production from the starters, Gard reached deep into his bench early on. Kamari McGee saw his highest minute total so far this season (10), and he recorded his first five points as a Badger midway through the first half. Carter Gilmore and Connor Essegian also found solid minutes off the bench.
A scary moment for the Badgers came just eight seconds into the second half, as Hepburn would tweak a muscle in his left leg and head to the locker room for the first ten or so minutes of the second half. In the meantime, Essegian found his rhythm as he dropped in two 3-pointers on his way to 12 total points.
As the game progressed, both offenses were firing at full power, trading blow after blow. Crowl and Wahl’s constant presence in the paint often overwhelmed the Golden Eagles, as the Badgers continued to dominate the rebounds — something they struggled to do against Wake Forest. Hepburn’s return from the locker room provided an extra spark for the Badgers as his presence on the court encouraged the offense.
It wouldn’t be a Wisconsin basketball game if it wasn’t close going into the final minutes. With less than a minute left, the Badgers found themselves down one with possession. Fresh out of a locker room evaluation, Hepburn fired away from way beyond the arc and boosted the Badgers into a two point lead. Marquette would eventually tie the game, and the I-94 rivalry headed to overtime — the score reading 70 points apiece.
In overtime, the experienced players took the lead. A 3-pointer from Davis followed by an Euro-step finish from Wahl launched the Badgers into a quick five point lead in the extra period, but the Golden Eagles came knocking back and tied it at 77.
Of course, the game winning basket was created by none other than Hepburn. His dribble penetration to the baseline set up Klesmit for a cut right down the middle of the paint, and Klesmit’s crafty finish below the rim gave the Badgers a two point lead with just three seconds left. A free throw from Wahl sealed the deal, and the Badgers picked up the 80-77 overtime win.
The Badgers’ win kept the Wisconsin bragging rights in Madison as they added onto last year’s win over Marquette.
After the close loss to Wake Forest, the Badgers undoubtedly worked to improve for this matchup, especially since Marquette entered Saturday’s matchup on a high, following a 26 point upset over the sixth-ranked Baylor. Essentially all of the struggles in the matchup against Wake Forest were corrected or improved — rebounding was clearly a higher priority, shooting percentages continued to impress (44% from three) and the overall offensive productivity has increased, as Wisconsin scored their most points of the season against a difficult opponent.
All said, such a massive win should provide a confidence boost as the schedule continues to grow in difficulty. As the gauntlet of Big Ten play approaches quickly, the Badgers are finding their offensive stride to pair with the already stout defense.
Wisconsin will next take the floor at home against No. 22 ranked Maryland, who will be coming off a big win over 16th ranked Illinois, in the Badgers’ first Big Ten matchup of the season. The game starts at 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the Kohl Center, and can be found live on ESPN2 and the Badger Sports Network.