Wisconsin Badgers rally for 61-57 win over Penn State Nittany Lions
As Brevin Pritzl walked to the free throw line with 1.5 seconds remaining in the game Saturday afternoon, chants of “MVP, MVP!” were coming from the student section behind him.
The junior guard for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team says he didn’t hear the serenade. The thing Pritzl remembered most from that sequence is missing his first attempt from the line.
It turned out to be the only time the ball didn’t go through the net for Pritzl, whose big second half was a major reason the No. 19 Badgers escaped with a 61-57 victory over Penn State at the Kohl Center.
Pritzl scored 14 of his team-high 17 points after halftime, sparking a rally that helped UW remain in the hunt for a double bye in the Big Ten tournament. The win moved the Badgers (20-9, 12-6 Big Ten) into a tie with Maryland for fourth place with two games remaining.
Senior center Ethan Happ overcame a poor start to finish with 14 points, redshirt freshman wing Kobe King added a boost off the bench with nine points and UW extended its winning streak over the Nittany Lions to 12 games.
Afterward, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said his team could live with giving up some 2-point field goals to Happ while playing him one-on-one. That strategy probably would have worked if not for Pritzl, who went 5 of 5 overall from the field, 4 of 4 from 3-point range and 3 of 4 from the stripe.
“He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen,” Happ said of Pritzl, who’s now shooting 56.8 percent from beyond the arc in Big Ten play. “I tell him all the time, ‘Stop passing the ball, shoot the ball.’ ”
Pritzl’s first 3-pointer of the second half came late in a 13-3 run that helped UW turn an eight-point deficit into a 43-41 lead. A short while later, he made two 3-pointers from the left corner in a span of three possessions to extend the Badgers’ lead to 49-45.
Two of Pritzl’s four 3-pointers were off feeds from Happ. The other two were off dishes from sophomore guard Brad Davison.
“I was just feeding off everybody else,” said Pritzl, who reached double figures for the first time since scoring 12 against Iowa in the Big Ten opener on Nov. 30. “I kind of just snuck around, got to the open spots and hit the shots.”
Making shots at a better rate was the main reason UW was able to overcome its seven-point halftime deficit. Another reason was the Badgers’ reaction to an animated plea from coach Greg Gard at halftime to show more toughness in the final 20 minutes.
Gard’s biggest gripes: UW was finishing poorly in the paint, and Penn State was coming up with most of the 50/50 balls.
“Good thing nobody recorded it,” Gard said. “We needed to bow up a little bit and we needed to finish better and we needed to rebound better. …
“We were able to change that in the second half and the result showed. We played with more energy, more toughness, more physicality, which you have to do. This league isn’t for the weak-minded.”
Even with a more inspired effort and the hot shooting of Pritzl, the Badgers still found themselves in a dogfight in the closing minutes. Pritzl scored in the paint off a feed from senior forward Khalil Iverson with 4 minutes remaining, but that was UW’s final field goal of the game.
After Pritzl made two free throws on the next possession to give the Badgers a 57-53 lead with 2:49 remaining, they didn’t score again until sophomore point guard D’Mitrik Trice made two free throws with 50.6 seconds left.
A free throw by Lamar Stevens, who scored a game-high 22 points, cut Penn State’s deficit to 59-57 with 43.9 seconds left. But the Nittany Lions (12-17, 5-13) turned the ball over on their next possession and, after a free throw by sophomore forward Nate Reuvers gave UW a three-point cushion, a controversial finish helped the Badgers survive.
Davison forced freshman guard Rasir Bolton toward the sidelines and Pritzl came over to help near the Penn State bench. Bolton and Pritzl collided and, as Pritzl fell out of bounds, his arm made contact with the back of Bolton’s head.
Bolton, in an attempt to earn a trip to the line for three foul shots, tried to fling the ball toward the basket. Instead, it went out of bounds and UW was rewarded possession with 1.9 seconds to go following a replay.
The play happened right in front of Chambers, who was livid, and called out official D.J. Carstensen by name afterward.
Chambers thought the Badgers were trying to foul Bolton so they could avoid a game-tying 3-pointer. But Pritzl and Gard both said that the plan for UW was to play out the final defensive possession, exchanging on screens while not fouling.
“I felt like we should have been awarded three (free throws) there,” Chambers said. “That was just unfortunate. I think D.J.’s a good ref. I think he has good demeanor. He just missed it.”
After following up the “MVP” chants by missing a free throw, Pritzl made his second attempt to seal Penn State’s 19th consecutive loss in Madison. The Nittany Lions dropped to 0-16 at the Kohl Center.
While Chambers said it was “unfortunate the players can’t decide the game,” he also had plenty of praise for Pritzl.
“He was the difference in the game,” Chambers said. “If you look at the stats right now, you’re thinking, ‘Did Penn State win this game?’ No, we didn’t, because of Pritzl’s 3s in the second half.”