Led by a career-high 36 points from Steven Crowl, the Wisconsin Badgers topped the Bradley Braves in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night, 81-62. The Badgers earned a No. 2 seed in the “lower left” section of the bracket and hosted the Braves for the matchup.
In the first half, the Badgers started hot thanks to a 3-pointer from Chucky Hepburn and back-to-back hook shots from Crowl. Bradley hung in with Wisconsin’s scoring early, but contributions from bench players like Kamari McGee, Carter Gilmore and Jordan Davis helped Wisconsin hold a 22-13 early lead.
Crowl continued the scoring with a 3-pointer — the first of a career-high five on the night — but Bradley continued to match Wisconsin’s scoring and cut the lead to a single possession. A drive from Connor Essegian and two more 3-pointers from Crowl boosted Wisconsin back into a 40-35 lead at the half — only the second time all season the Badgers recorded 40 first-half points.
Out of the locker room, Crowl continued to make his early case for NIT Most Valuable Player. He slammed home two passes and drilled yet another 3-pointer. He was backed up by a few layups from Max Klesmit.
Essegian also turned up his production in the second half, making a series of free throws and a 3-pointer to help Wisconsin pull away in the last 10 minutes. The Braves had no answers for the Badgers, and Wisconsin pulled away with a 19-point win.
Crowl’s career night — 36 points on 12-16 from the floor, 5-7 from three and 7-7 from the free throw line — comes in at 11th all time for a Wisconsin basketball single-game performance, putting him in the company of Badger greats like Frank Kaminsky, Ken Barnes, Michael Finley, Alando Tucker and Johnny Davis.
Klesmit also contributed 16 points, and Essegian recorded 14 and five rebounds.
Wisconsin will look to ride their big man’s momentum into the second round of the NIT where they will take on the three-seeded Liberty Flames at the Kohl Center. Tip-off is to be determined on March 19.