“I’m not going to claim it’s our most intelligent display of basketball at times,” coach Greg Gard said, “but we were able to do enough good things at the right times.”
The Badgers built a 12-point lead in the first half, but a 14-2 run by the Hoosiers tied things up with 2:33 left. Wisconsin scored just five points in the final 8:22 of the period, and led 27-24 at the break.
The Badgers managed to build a 9-point lead in the first 5:20 of the second half, but another scoring drought allowed a banged-up Indiana squad to stay within single digits the rest of the way, getting within two on a Robert Johnson jumper midway through the period.
Wisconsin seemingly put Indiana away thanks to a 3-pointer from Zak Showalter with 1:37 left to make it 58-50, but the Hoosiers weren’t done. They got a pair of free throws from Josh Newkirk with 28 seconds left to get within three points, before the Badgers hit 5 of 6 free throws to close the game out, earning their 19th straight win at the Kohl Center.
It was another struggle on the offensive end for Wisconsin, who shot 40 percent from the field and just 4 of 17 from beyond the arc. The lone consistent option was Happ, who made 8 of his 10 shots, including a late steal and dunk that gave him his fourth 20-plus point game of the year.
“I don’t think it’s anything we can do except keep shooting,” Happ said of the struggles. “We’ve got shooters and sometimes they just slump a little bit.
“We’ll eventually start making them.”
The Badgers overcame those struggles because of their work on the other end. For the fourth straight game, Wisconsin held its opponent under 1.0 points per possession, a metric the program has lived by since former coach Bo Ryan took over in 2001, with anything under 1.0 being acceptable. Indiana came in a .938.
“Thank goodness there’s two sides of basketball, and we’re able to make up some things on defense,” Nigel Hayes said. “This is a high scoring Indiana team, so to hold them to 60 points is a really good deal for us. It’s the only reason why we won.”
Hayes finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, with nearly half his points coming at the free throw line. A problem area for the Badgers much of the season, Hayes was 7 of 8 and the team went 23 of 31 from the line.
The win was the seventh in a row for the Badgers, who are now 20-3 on the year and 9-1 in the Big Ten. With the win, and Maryland’s loss on Saturday, Wisconsin now leads the conference by one game on the Terrapins and two games on Purdue.
The Badgers travel to Nebraska this Thursday.