Wisconsin Badgers put up valiant effort but suffer another close loss, this time at the hands of Purdue at the Kohl Center
MADISON – Wisconsin teammates Tyler Wahl, Max Klesmit and Chucky Hepburn sat in the Kohl Center media room and stared down at the table, likely looking at the stat sheets in front of them and trying to digest the latest close loss.
Their faces were laden with disappointment and frustration.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” Wahl said after UW suffered a 63-61 loss to No. 5 Purdue Thursday night. “Because we’ve been playing well enough to win, and we just haven’t been able to get it done.”
Needing a quality to enhance their NCAA Tournament résumé, the Badgers instead missed their final four field-goal attempts in the last 3 minutes 30 seconds – after Klesmit scored in the lane off a feed from Wahl for a 57-56 lead — and saw Purdue hold on by hitting 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:45.
The Badgers missed another opportunity for a quality victory and enter their regular-season finale Sunday at Minnesota just 8-11 in the Big Ten and 16-13 overall.
The Gophers (8-20, 2-16) stunned visiting Rutgers, 75-74, Thursday on Jamison Battle’s buzzer-beating three-pointer.
BOX SCORE:Purdue 63, Wisconsin 61
“It feels like we’re right there,” said Klesmit, who scored 17 of his team-high 19 points in the second half. “It’s just a matter of a few possessions.”
Purdue hits free throws down the stretch as Wisconsin goes cold
The outcome Thursday night was decided by a handful of possessions.
Purdue held a 58-57 lead thanks to a pair of free throws by Zach Edey with 1:45 left. The Badgers had a chance to take the lead after calling a timeout with 22 seconds on the shot clock and 36.4 seconds left in the game.
Klesmit drove down the right side of the lane but missed a contested shot.
“I was just trying to get to the rim, get in the paint and make a play,” he said. “I should have come to a two-foot stop, controlled myself.
“But I went off one (foot) and missed it.”
That was UW’s last chance to take the lead until its final possession.
Purdue hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final 21.5 seconds, including 1 of 2 by Ethan Morton with 4.4 seconds left, for a 63-61 lead. Klesmit’s desperation three-point attempt at the buzzer was well short.
Close losses have become ‘frustrating’ for Max Klesmit and the Wisconsin Badgers
UW has played in 19 games this season decided by five points or fewer or decided in overtime. The Badgers are 10-9 in those games.
Five of the Big Ten losses – to Michigan State, Northwestern twice, Rutgers and Purdue – have come by a combined 12 points.
“The frustrating part is that we’ve been there in so many of these games,” Klesmit said.
Purdue clinches the outright Big Ten title at the Kohl Center
One year after suffering a three-point loss to UW in the Kohl Center, a victory that gave the Badgers a share of the regular-season title, Purdue (25-5, 14-5) left with the outright league title.
The Boilermakers clinched that when Michigan fell in two overtimes at Illinois.
“It gets down to a make or miss,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We made a shot. They missed a shot. We win. We feel great and they feel awful…
“We’re one possession better than them. Does it make us better? No. It makes us one possession better.”
Hepburn, who missed the final 20-plus minutes at Michigan on Sunday after suffering an apparent right knee injury, got the start against Purdue and contributed 13 points, two rebounds and one assist in 34 minutes.
Reserve guard Isaac Lindsey, who entered the night with 24 points in 18 games, scored eight points in the opening half to keep UW within four points. Connor Essegian played just eight minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. He finished with eight points.
Wahl (2 of 11) and Steven Crowl (1 of 5) scored just five and two points, respectively.
Zach Edey is a difference maker for Purdue on offensive and defensive ends
Zach Edey, 7-foot-4 and 305 pounds, guarded Wahl for most of the game.
“We liked our matchup with Zach on Tyler Wahl,” Painter said. “We didn’t have to give too much help there. We were concerned about their three-point shooting.
“Our interior defense did a pretty good job on Crowl and Wahl.”
Edey entered the night averaging 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks and shooting 61.2%. He contributed nine points, seven rebounds and three assists in the opening half to help Purdue take a 31-27 lead and finished with 17 points, 19 rebounds and three assists.
Freshman guards Fletcher Loyer (11.8 ppg) and Braden Smith (9.8 ppg, 4.3 apg) combined for 14 points in the opening half and finished with 13 and nine points, respectively.
Purdue came in limiting opponents to 30.6% three-point shooting and 41.6% shooting overall. The Badgers hit 5 of 11 three-pointers in the opening half (45.5%) and finished 10 of 24 overall (41.7%).
Purdue countered by outscoring UW, 30-18, in the paint, winning the battle at the free-throw line by hitting 11 of 18 attempts to just 5 of 5 for UW and by scoring 11 points off eight UW turnovers. The Boilermakers scored nine points off six UW turnovers in the opening half.
“Absolutely,” UW coach Greg Gard said of the importance of the Boilermakers scoring off UW turnovers. “In a low-possession game it is going to be a battle. When we can set our defense in the half-court we’re pretty good. You can’t set your defense when you’re throwing pix-sixes.
“Little things – one thing here, one thing there – as they add up makes a difference because we’ve been in so many of these games.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Badgers’ scoring drought costly in Big Ten loss to Purdue