By Mitchell Speltz – 12/8/2021
The young, Wisconsin Badgers (8-1) entered conference play with significant momentum after multiple signature wins in the first month of the college basketball season. But on Wednesday night, Big Ten play started about as poorly as it possibly could. The Badgers found themselves down 22 points in the first-half to the Indiana Hoosiers (7-2) with nothing going right on offense or defense. In the second half, a completely different Wisconsin team came out of the locker room, a team Badger fans have been accustomed to seeing. Led by a 23-point effort by rising star Johnny Davis, and unlikely contributors such as Chris Vogt, Ben Carlson, and Jordan Davis, Wisconsin tied a program record with a 22-point comeback ignited by their defense to win their conference opener, 64-59. The team’s defense shined again by holding the Hoosiers to just 17 second-half points. In addition to the record-breaking comeback, it’s also the third time this year Wisconsin has rallied from 10+ points down to win (Texas A&M, St. Mary’s). The Badgers will look to make it a 2-0 start in the Big Ten on the road against No. 21 Ohio State on Saturday, but first, the takeaways from Wednesday’s victory:
- Defense. Defense. Defense. Wisconsin was able to make their historic comeback thanks to an elite defensive effort in the second half. After surrendering 42 first-half points, the Badgers held the Hoosiers to just 17 points on 5/22 shooting with no three-pointers in the second. Their ability to shut out Indiana from the perimeter was key, but the team’s capability to defend All-American Trayce Jackson-Davis one-on-one in the post set the tone. Greg Gard admitted after the game the goal was to double him and put pressure on him in the first half but adjusted to more straight-up defense against him after halftime, which helped the guards on the perimeter close out better on shooters. One could argue every player for Wisconsin who’s touched the floor is a plus-defender and this team continues to show that every game.
- Chris Vogt established himself in a major way on Wednesday night and was the ultimate difference-maker in Wisconsin’s impressive rally against Indiana. Vogt led the team with a +13 margin while he was on the floor and made several impacts. His defense against the Hoosiers’ interior players changed things defensively, but what he did on offense stood out most. He extended possessions with offensive rebounds and hustle plays and contributed 9 points off the bench, showing a nice touch around the basket. With Steven Crowl struggling and dealing with foul trouble, the transfer from Cincinnati provided the spark off the bench Wisconsin needed. He’s been relatively quiet up to this point in the season, but against Indiana he showed what he can do and it will be needed against some of the elite big-men of the Big Ten due up on the schedule.
- The influence Tyler Wahl had in this game cannot go unnoticed. Wahl grabbed a season-high 12 boards for the Badgers and his defense was most noticeable at the end of the game when he came up with a key block at the basket with Indiana looking to regain the lead in the final minute. He came up with just 7 points on Wednesday, but the Junior has carved out a role for himself as perhaps the best back-to-the-basket player for Wisconsin. Wahl has consistently shown the ability to back down his defender and score underneath the hoop. He’s a strong finisher around the rim and he’s made an impactful jump this season after being a stellar, glue guy his first two years in the program.
- Wisconsin turned the ball over just four times in this game. You read that right, just four turnovers. This Badger squad is playing like a vintage Wisconsin team by taking care of the ball, playing great defense, and executing all the important fundamentals. They lowered their turnover mark/game to 8.6, which is Top-10 nationally. Maximizing possessions and not turning the ball over is an aspect I did not expect this team to be thriving at this early in the season.
AT THE PODIUM:
- “Next man up. Jordan Davis was huge. We’ve said our numbers this year are really good for us. Everyone stepped up tonight” – Brad Davison on the impact of the bench
- “It was awesome, when it comes to March and you’re competing for a Big Ten Championship, this is a game you look back to. These are the games that help you contend for championships” – Davison on the significance of the win
- It’s easier to play when you’re down because you can play more aggressively. But we came back tonight because of our defense, we held them to 17 second-half points” – Johnny Davis on how the team was able to rally
- Flashback to when Brad hit that three against Maryland. But when I hit that I knew we were going to win because our defense was going to lock it down from there” – Davis on hitting the go-ahead three-pointer
- “One led to the other. They forced us into some bad shots and it led to easy ones for them on the other end. We were much better inside-out in the second half, which allowed us to set our defense better” – Greg Gard on what changed after halftime