With just a month left in the regular season, visiting Northwestern and Wisconsin each will be jockeying for possible postseason position in a Big Ten matchup on Sunday in Madison, Wis.
Wisconsin (13-8, 5-6 Big Ten), which has participated in 22 of the last 23 NCAA tournaments, is coming off a 65-60 victory at Ohio State on Thursday despite not making a field goal over the final 7:18. The Badgers, who appeared a tourney lock with a No. 14 ranking after the first of the year, had lost six of seven prior to holding off the Buckeyes.
Northwestern (15-7, 6-5), whose only NCAA tourney appearance was in 2017, lost 68-51 at home to Michigan on Thursday.
In the first meeting two weeks ago, the Wildcats snapped a seven-game losing streak against Wisconsin with a 66-63 home victory, overcoming a 57-54 deficit. Northwestern has not win in Madison since a 60-52 victory on Feb. 1, 2018 and hasn’t swept the season series since 1996.
Against Ohio State, the Badgers led 62-47, only to see the Buckeyes close within 62-60 with 30 seconds remaining. Chucky Hepburn finally iced the win with 3 of 4 free throws in the final 24.2 seconds.
“J thought our first half was really good tonight,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “We were aggressive, we got some stuff in transition, we got the ball in the paint. I thought we’d get a thrust back in the second half, which we did. And we didn’t obviously execute well down the stretch, the last seven minutes. But the good part is, we’re in a position where we can learn from it, whether it’s making free throws or getting better shots down the stretch.”
Wisconsin, last in the Big Ten in free-throw shooting in conference games, was just 13 of 22 from the line against the Buckeyes. The Badgers also were hammered on the boards 45-26, the ninth time in the last 10 games they have been outrebounded.
Hepburn and Steven Crowl average 12.4 points and Tyler Wahl averages 12.2 per game. Freshman guard Connor Essegian (10.8 points) has started the last five games, and had a team-high 17 points against Ohio State.
Wisconsin has had 12 games decided by five points or fewer, going 8-4.
Northwestern trailed Michigan by just one at the half, but allowed the Wolverines to shoot 55.6 percent in the second half.
Boo Buie averages 16.2 points and leads the conference in free-throw percentage (90.2). Chase Audige adds 15.5 points and leads the Big Ten in steals (58), also ranking fifth nationally with 2.64 per game, Matthew Nicholson has a team-best 6.2 boards per game.
“In the Big Ten, everybody’s beating each other,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “There’s not a team outside of Purdue that hasn’t had a tough loss here, or a tough week where they’ve lost two. What you have to do is you’ve got to then bounce back. And fortunately for us we’ve done that. Now we’re in a position, we’ve lost two in a row. We’ve got to get back on track and somehow, someway find a win.”
–Field Level Media