PISCATAWAY – Although they were not favorites for the pre-season victory in the Big Ten conference, Wisconsin coach Greg Guard said it has been his team’s goal since the start of the season.
Win the next game and the Badgers at number 13 (23-5, 14-4) will win the title in the regular season.
“This group was referring to the Big Ten Championship since we started in the off-season,” Gard said Saturday night after Wisconsin took first place with a hard-fought 66-61 away win over Rutgers. “This is a group that followed this course and continued to take it one day after another.”
As usual, Johnny Davis was in the lead, scoring 15 of 19 points in the second half. He was a big help when Brad Davison added 14 points, Chuckie Hepburn had 13 and Tyler Wall had 11, helping the Badgers win the fourth game in a row and raise 14-1 in games that are determined by six points or less.
Wisconsin could win the title on Tuesday if it hosts host number 4 Purdue, who lost to Michigan. The Badgers won the previous meeting.
“You know, we got a big win on Tuesday,” Davis said. “Obviously Purdue is a very good team and we know we are playing this game.”
Geo Baker scored 16 of 19 points in the second half to meet Rutgers (16-12, 10-8), but missed a 3-point attempt with an equivalent game four seconds before the game.
Ron Harper Jr. added 15 points for the Scarlet Knights, who have now lost three in a row after four games in the winning streak – and all against ranked teams.
“The way we played in the second half was the way we played, winning four ranking teams in a row,” Harper said. “The way we played in the first half was the way we lost in the last three games.”
Lagging 11 in the half, Rutgers rallied in the final 20 minutes and took the first lead with a score of 51-50 when Baker jumped with a foul. The leaders went from hand to hand before Davis, who was disappointed with the failures most of the game, drove to the standstill with a score of 5:39 to play with a score of 56-55. Hepburn added a three-pointer in less than a minute, while Wisconsin led 59-55.
“I thought sooner or later I would get a call,” said Davis, who took 6 of 19 from the field. “You know, they gave me a few in the second half, but it was very unpleasant because Caleb McConnell was a very good defender.”
Wall after a free kick by Cliff Amarui of Rutgers made the score 61-56, but Rutgers never came close to 63-61 after Harper scored a three-pointer 28 seconds before the game. Val’s free kick five seconds later gave Rutgers the last shot, but Baker missed.
Baker was not available to the media after the game, but teammates noted that he was the reason that the game was close at the end.
Wisconsin built the lead at break 33-23, and it was Davison and Hepburn who carried the load. Davison scored three three-pointers and scored 11 points, and Hepburn – 10. In the first 20 minutes, “Scarlet Knights” scored only nine baskets and did not kill three-pointers. They also missed four free throws, two in front had the opportunity one-on-one.
The big picture
Wisconsin: Probably getting a very high seed in the NCAA tournament.
Rutgers: Next week you need to win a two or two to reassure yourself of the NCAA’s second consecutive trip.
“This group overcame adversity,” Harper said. “You know, they told us that our season is dead many times over. We just keep fighting and just keep insisting and keep fighting through adversity. And there is no doubt that this team can do it. “
Wisconsin: Tuesday takes № 4 Purdue.
Rutgers: To Indiana on Wednesday.