Battle-tested Wisconsin Badgers knock off undefeated Maryland in basketball

MADISON – Maryland came to the Kohl Center unbeaten in eight games, ranked No. 13 in the polls and with an impressive victory over a talented Illinois team in the Big Ten opener.

Wisconsin?

The Badgers were unranked but battle tested having already played five consecutive games decided by five points or fewer.

Greg Gard’s team struggled at the free-throw line in the second half but otherwise showed its toughness in grinding out a 64-59 victory Tuesday night in the Badgers' Big Ten opener.

"These guys have gotten a lot of experience, got their feet (held) to the fire," Gard said, "which is what we needed. It forces growth when you have to really buckle down and play."

The Badgers (7-2, 1-0 Big Ten) opened league play with a victory for the 18th time in the last 20 seasons. They prevailed despite making just 15 of 25 free throws in the second half after hitting both attempts in the opening half.

"Getting to the line 27 times is good," Gard said. "Only making 17 is not...

"It does become a little infectious…I like the fact that we’re getting there but we need to just calm down and relax and knock them down."

Maryland (8-1, 0-1) fell to 5-8 against UW since joining the Big Ten.

BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 64, Maryland 59

Seven of the eight players Gard used scored, each at least seven points.

Chucky Hepburn hit a three-pointer late in the shot clock to give UW a 56-47 lead with 4 minutes 3 seconds left, made two free throws with 2:17 left to give UW a 60-53 lead and finished with a team-high 13 points.

"I think we played really well on the defensive side," said Hepburn, who had sealed the victory with a late steal. "We forced them to take a couple tough shots late in the second half. When you play solid defense it makes up for missing free throws."

Wisconsin Badgers guard Chucky Hepburn tries to get rid of the ball after coming up with a steal against Maryland in the waning seconds of the second half Tuesday night.
Wisconsin Badgers guard Chucky Hepburn tries to get rid of the ball after coming up with a steal against Maryland in the waning seconds of the second half Tuesday night.

Steven Crowl added 12 points, six rebounds and three assists. Jordan Davis added eight points and six rebounds. Tyler Wahl hit just 3 of 7 free-throw attempts, 3 of 10 field-goal attempts and fouled out in the final minute. He still contributed nine points, five rebounds and three assists.

Connor Essegian added eight points, including six in the second half. He was 0 of 3 from three-point range and 0 of 5 overall when he hit a three-pointer for a 48-45 lead with 7:24 left. Less than a minute later, he hit another three-point to give UW a 53-45 lead.

"I’m always looking at it as the next one is in," Essegian said. "I’m just out there playing ball."

Junior forward Carter Gilmore played perhaps his best game at UW and finished with seven points, three rebounds, one assist and one block. His defense in the lane area was terrific.

"I thought Carter Gilmore did some really good things off the bench when Tyler was struggling and in foul trouble," Gard said.

Max Klesmit had another quietly effective game with seven points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. He hit two free throws with 21.1 seconds left to give UW a 63-56 lead.

The Badgers entered the night limiting teams to just 59.9 points per game, the No. 3 mark in the Big Ten.

Maryland, fourth in the league in scoring at 80.8 points per game, got off to a slow start, warmed late in the first half but then struggled to score the last 7½ minutes and finished with a season-low point total. The previous low was 71.

"You’ve got to give them credit," said Maryland coach Kevin Willard, whose team hit 7 of 12 free-throw attempts. "We talked about it the last couple days, their physicality on defense, especially at home. I think everybody gets away with a little murder at home.

"I thought we had opportunities...But you have to give them credit. They are excellent defensively."

The Terrapins came in with four players averaging at least 12.6 points per game, led by senior Donta Scott (15.4).

Jahmir Young scored 17 points and Julian Reese added 10 for Maryland. Scott missed 11 of 14 shots and finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. Hakim Hart, averaging 13.8 points per game and shooting 60.3%, hit just 2 of 10 shots and finished with five points.

The Badgers led by as many as 12 points in the opening half, settled for a two-point halftime lead, trailed by no more than a point in the second half and took the lead for good, 48-45, on Essegian's first three-pointer. The Badgers made just enough free throws – 3 of their last 4 – to hold on.

"We make it harder on ourselves at times than we need to." Gard said. "But we were able to do just enough to close it out...

"Start of league play and 19 more that will probably be every similar. That’s what this league is about."

More:Nickel: Chucky Hepburn gave it all on the floor, and that's exactly what Wisconsin needed

More:Big Ten men's basketball could provide another wild ride for coaches, players this season

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: The Badgers beat unbeaten Maryland to open their Big Ten schedule