Wisconsin suffers an ugly loss to Illinois, the Badgers' 3rd straight defeat and 6th in 7 games
MADISON – Back at full-strength for the first time in almost two weeks, the Wisconsin men's basketball team hoped to make a statement Saturday at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers did, though not the type they planned.
In suffering an ugly 61-51 loss to Illinois, the Badgers showed they aren't playing well enough to put together 40 minutes of winning basketball on both ends of the court.
Greg Gard’s team can play well in spurts, but that hasn’t been good enough and won’t be good enough the rest of the season.
"We’ve got to play for a full 40 minutes," said guard Max Klesmit, back in the lineup after missing two games because of facial injuries and a concussion.
Cold shooting was the issue in the opening half as the Badgers hit just 3 of 14 three-pointers (21.4%) and 6 of 33 shots overall (18.2%) yet trailed by just 20-16.
Box score:Illinois 61, Wisconsin 51
"I thought our defense was outstanding," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of the first half. "You don’t do that against a Wisconsin team very often."
After falling behind by 12 points early in the second half, the Badgers found their shooting touch behind guard Chucky Hepburn and battled back for a 35-34 lead with 11 minutes 32 seconds left.
UW then buckled on both ends of the court as Matthew Mayer scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in a 22-4 Illinois run.
The Illini had a 56-39 lead with 4:03 left and UW’s victory hopes were all but gone.
The loss left the Badgers (12-8, 4-6 Big Ten) in the midst of their second three-game losing streak of the season and they have won just once in its last seven games.
Illinois (15-6, 6-4) defeated UW for the second time this season and has won six of its last seven games. The turnaround started with a 79-69 victory over UW in Champaign.
"I can’t tell you how proud of I am of our group," Underwood said. "They had a 15-2 run and to withstand that and then make our own run, that shows our guys are growing up."
Mayer, who was relatively quiet (10 points, six rebounds) in the teams’ first meeting, scored 18 of his points after halftime. Guarded frequently by UW freshman Connor Essegian, Mayer hit 5 of 11 three-pointers and 9 of 18 shots overall. He hit 2 three-pointers in the decisive 22-4 run.
"He is playing great basketball right now," senior forward Tyler Wahl said of Mayer. "He is attacking the offensive glass. He can score from anywhere pretty much. He can get downhill. We didn’t have an answer for him today."
Klesmit sparked UW early and finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
More:Max Klesmit's absence the last two Big Ten games has been felt, but Wisconsin is expected to have him back against Illinois
Badgers' last game:Wisconsin's defense struggles mightily in its loss at Maryland
Hepburn, who hit just 4 of 16 shots in the loss to Northwestern and took just three shots in the loss at Maryland, missed his first six field-goal attempts Saturday. His first make was a three-pointer with 14:39 left to help pull UW within six points.
He finished with 15 points and five rebounds and was far more aggressive than he had been in the loss at Maryland.
Wahl, who did not play in the first Illinois game, went to the bench for the final 15:07 of the first half after picking up his second foul. He picked up his third and fourth fouls in a span of three seconds early in the second half and finished with nine points and four rebounds in 19 minutes.
The only other game this season in which he played fewer minutes was against Minnesota, when he played 8:50 before suffering an ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup for three games.
"That is on me," he said. "I’ve got to be better. That is the bottom line."
Steven Crowl, who had a double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds) in the teams’ first meeting, had just two points in the opening half Saturday. He picked up his fourth foul with 9:49 left in the game and finished with seven points and seven rebounds.
The game was tied at 37 when Crowl picked up his fourth foul. When he returned with 6:58 left, UW trailed, 46-37.
"I thought when Steve got his fourth that really changed the tone of the game," Gard said. "We’ve got to put ourselves in better positions where you’re not sitting…No team can put your better players on the bench like that."
Essegian, coming off a 19-point performance at Maryland, suffered through a freshman game on both ends of the court. He missed all five field-goal attempts, struggled on defense and finished with three points.
"I thought we had some really good looks," Gard said. "Connor, we ran a few things for him. It was one of those days. He hasn’t had many of them when he hasn’t been able to put the ball in the basket. Today was a struggle for him."
The Badgers struggled to score early when Illinois was tossing up bricks and missed an opportunity to build a halftime lead. They shot 54.2% after halftime but scored just 14 points over the final 10:11 of the game and allowed the Illini to scored 22 points on 10 possessions during the decisive 18-point swing.
"I feel like in the beginning of the year we were doing a pretty good job limiting the runs that the other team would have," Wahl said. "And we’d respond. Right now, we haven’t been able to get stop on defense. They go on their runs and we call a timeout and nothing (changes). They just continue to do what they want to do."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin falls to Illinois, 61-51, third straight loss for Badgers