No. 22 Illinois falls to Wisconsin, 67-63
CHAMPAIGN — With just over 9 minutes to play Sunday, 7-foot-1 center Meyers Leonard glided away from the basket and hit a soft, fade-away jumper that gave No. 22 Illinois a four-point lead over Wisconsin.
It appeared at the time — playing in front of a loud, sellout crowd — the shot gave the Illini the momentum, too.
But the Badgers answered with a 7-0 run, the last shot a fast break layup by Ben Brust that put the Badgers up 53-50 and silenced the crowd as the Wisconsin bench erupted with shouts.
Illinois (15-5, 4-3 Big Ten) never led again and fell 67-53, its second straight loss.
“They went on that 7-0 run,” said Leonard, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds. “It was kind of a turning point in the second half. This is one we let slip away, that’s for sure.”
Badgers coach Bo Ryan, whose team started the day in sixth place in the conference, said his team had to scrap for its fourth straight win after three consecutive Big Ten losses.
“We have to do those things to be successful,” he said. “We don’t strike fear in a lot of hearts when we show up.”
Jordan Taylor led Wisconsin (16-5, 5-3) with 19 points, including seven from the free-throw line. Jared Berggren had 18 points for the Badgers and it was his defense that limited Leonard’s opportunities.
Joseph Bertrand added 15 points for Illinois.
Taylor started the 7-0 run with a short jump shot, followed by Mike Bruesewitz’s 3-pointer and Brust’s fastbreak layup.
It was Bruesewitz’s 3-pointer with 7:42 left in the game that typified the scrappy play Ryan talked about.
Brust initially missed from long range after a turnover by Brandon Paul, but Berggren lunged toward the sideline in front of the Wisconsin bench to pick up the rebound, feeding it back to Brust and, eventually, the ball found the open Bruesewitz on the opposite side of the court.
The Badgers finished with 10 second-chance points.
“They made the plays and you have to give them credit,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “They out-toughed us and outhustled us.”
The Illini tied the game at 53-53 with 5:16 to play on a basket by Bertrand, but a jumper by Brust put the Badgers up for good, 55-53, with just over 5 minutes left.
Taylor, who struggled early, finally finished off the Illini with 32 seconds to play, slashing his way into the lane as the shot clock wound down and hitting a jump shot for a 62-57 lead.
“The opportunity presents itself and I try to knock shots down,” said Taylor, acknowledging his slow start. “I’m still not doing a great job of that.”
D.J. Richardson added 13 points for the Illini and Paul, two games removed from a 43-point night against the Buckeyes, had 10.
Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser drew the assignment of controlling Paul, and was effective. Paul was 3 of 11 from the field, including missing two 3-point attempts.
“(Paul) has probably been the best player in the league the last couple of games,” Taylor said. “Josh did a great job of coming in and slowing him down.”
While Taylor struggled early for the Badgers, Bertrand found his shooting stroke midway through the first half, and finished with 12 points over the first 20 minutes. They included two on a drive and short jumper just before the buzzer that tied the game at 26-26.
“Joe was very good in the first half and kind of kept us going,” Weber said.
Bertrand’s early hot hand made up for a cold first half by Paul and Richardson. Between them they went to the locker room with seven points on 2-of-12 shooting
Wisconsin finished with 10 turnovers, but had eight by the half — one short of its average for a game. That and the Badgers’ 2-of-8 shooting from the free throw line in the first half were the biggest reasons Illinois was in the game.