The Wisconsin Badgers narrowly defeated the Oregon Ducks 61-58 on Tuesday, coming back from an eight-point deficit to win another close contest, moving forward to the NIT semifinals, where they’ll face North Texas in Las Vegas next week.
Despite Oregon fielding several injuries, it was just a one-point game at halftime, with the Ducks’ defense doing wonders against Wisconsin’s offensive approach.
With a couple of clutch shots from Max Klesmit and Chucky Hepburn, the Badgers were able to hang on, but it didn’t come without theatrics at the end.
Here are the quick takeaways from Wisconsin’s win on Tuesday.
The Center Battle
After it was announced that N’Faly Dante was going to miss tonight’s game, the center battle became even more important, as Nate Bittle drew the tough assignment of Steven Crowl.
However, Bittle was integral to the Ducks, especially on the defensive end, blocking two shots, while being a force near the rim, which played into Wisconsin’s abysmal shooting percentage on layups.
The Badgers were able to contain his offensive impact, as the center scored just seven points after averaging 19 a game in Oregon’s first two NIT tournament games.
Crowl scored 9 points on 4/10 shooting, while securing 10 rebounds, serving as Wisconsin’s best interior player as he has all of the tournament.
Bittle’s defense was integral to Oregon’s success and a reason why the matchup was closer than potentially anticipated with three starters out.
The Badgers, known for keeping the ball out of harm’s way, struggled with eight first-half turnovers, which is partially why their offense produced just 27 early points.
The script changed for the Badgers in the second half, who pulled it together and gave the ball up just twice over the final 20 minutes.
Oregon, another team known for its lack of turnovers, improved from their previous game, giving up just nine total takeaways, which was another factor in the close game on Tuesday.
Additionally, the Badgers had nice ball movement against a tough Ducks defense, recording 15 assists as a team, while the Ducks compiled 12 of their own.
After initially struggling with the turnover battle, the Badgers got it together and were able to string together another close victory.
Free throws have been a huge factor for both teams in the NIT, with each side seeing at least 20 shots from the line, with the Ducks struggling to convert, while the Badgers have hit at a higher rate than expected.
Those trends remained on Tuesday, as the teams saw similar free throw attempts: 13 for the Badgers and 12 for the Ducks in a closely-fought battle.
However, Oregon was awful from the line, converting just 4/12 attempts, while the Badgers were stellar in a 12/13 performance on free throws, which was a big difference in a three-point game.
Max Klesmit was especially clutch, hitting six of seven free throws, while knocking down a big three-pointer and the game-sealing shots.
Meanwhile, not a single player on Oregon hit over 50% of their free throws in a disappointing end to their season.
The Badgers attacked early, which led to three Oregon players having two fouls early, finishing with 13 attempts from the line.
On a poor shooting night for the Badgers, they needed every free throw they could get, which ultimately aided them in a much-needed victory on Tuesday.