EVANSTON, Ill.– Remember how Johnny Davis struggled shooting the ball in his last game but saw his Wisconsin teammates have his back?
Well, the sophomore guard returned the favor Tuesday night against Northwestern.
Davis scored nine consecutive points down the stretch and finished with a game-high 27 points to lead No. 8 UW to an 82-76 victory at Welsh-Ryan Fieldhouse and into a tie for first place in the Big Ten.
All five starters finished in double-figure points but Davis delivered the biggest basket of the night. UW's lead was 73-68 when Davis tried to draw a foul, failed, but still banked in the contested three-pointer for a 76-68 lead with 2 minutes 15 seconds left.
"I figured I was going to get a foul call," Davis said sheepishly, acknowledging he didn't call the bank shot. "I’m glad it went in...I guess I was feeling it tonight."
Box score: Wisconsin 82, Florida State 76
Northwestern eventually closed to within 80-76 with 48.5 seconds left but Wahl was able to make 2 of 4 free throws and UW's defense was stout on the Wildcats' final three possessions, causing two misses and a turnover.
The Badgers (15-2, 6-1 Big Ten) extended their winning streak to seven games to tie Illinois (13-4, 6-1) atop the league standings.
UW players and coaches can now turn their attention to a showdown at 8 p.m. Friday with Michigan State (14-3, 5-1) at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Asked if any player in the UW locker room was surprised to be in first place, freshman point guard ChuckyHepburn didn't need long to answer.
“Not at all,” he said. “We all knew from the summer that we were going to be really good. We had to go out there and prove it."
Northwestern was coming off a two-point upset of then-No. 10 Michigan State but entered the night 2-6 in games decided by eight or fewer points. The Wildcats saw their record fall to 2-5 in the Big Ten and 9-7 overall as they lost to UW for the seventh consecutive time.
The Badgers took advantage of Northwestern’s penchant for fouling and failing to get to the free-throw line.
UW made just 2 of 8 attempts in the final 25.8 seconds but made 17 of 26 overall; Northwestern hit 3 of 8 attempts overall.
Northwestern coach Chris Collins was clearly upset about the discrepancy.
"I thought it was an incredibly physical game," he said. "One team shot (26) free throws. The other one shot eight. A lot of bumping and banging.
"Chase Audige doesn't shoot a free throw. Davis shoots 10 and none of them were on drives. Every single one of them were on cuts where we knocked the ball out of his hands, jump-shooting.
"He wasn’t getting to the basket. He was shooting jump shots. So you’d have to ask the officials."
Brad Davison, Hepburn and Davis combined to hit 6 of 7 three-pointers and score 31 points in the opening half to help UW build a 41-35 lead.
Davis, who missed 14 of 18 shots in the 10-point victory over Ohio State, hit 4 of 5 three-pointers, 8 of 15 shots overall and 7 of 10 free-throw attempts Tuesday. He added eight rebounds and two assists.
Northwestern defended Davis physically and on one second-half possession he lost the ball after being hit in the face. The hit caused a bloody nose but the officials did not review the play despite the strong protests from UW coach Greg Gard and his assistants.
"I think I did a really good job of not letting all the bumps and bruises get to me," Davis said. "I think I did a good job keeping my composure."
Davison, who led UW in scoring with 25 points against Ohio State, finished with 13 points, four rebounds and four assists Tuesday.
His jumper from the left corner gave UW a 78-68 lead with 1:45 left.
Hepburn, who came in averaging 6.8 points and shooting 33.7%, finished with 14. The freshman had scored a combined 14 points in his previous three games.
"That is something I need to get better at, being more aggressive on offense," said Hepburn, who closed the first half with a three-pointer from deep in the backcourt to give UW a 41-35 lead. "If I can do that I think the team will be way better than we are right now."
Wahl, who averaged 15.5 points and 5.8 rebounds and shot 69.4% in the previous six games, struggled early inside against 6-foot-10 forward Robbie Beran. He made just 1 of his first 6 shots but finished 5 of 12 and contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds.
"I thought it would take him a little bit to adjust to that," Gard said. "With a 6-10 kid on him, that is a little longer than what he had seen. He adjusted pretty quickly. He started countering and going to multiple pivots."
Steven Cowl (10 points, three rebounds) and Chris Vogt (four points, four rebounds) combined for 14 points and seven rebounds.
Northwestern welcomed back forward Pete Nance, who entered the night leading the team in scoring (17.1 ppg) and rebounds (7.7 per game).
Nance, who missed the victory over Michigan State because of an ankle injury suffered in the previous game, contributed 10 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Audige, who entered the night shooting 24.3% from three-point range and 36.7% overall, hit 2 of 2 three-pointers and 7 of 10 shots and scored 16 points in the opening half to keep Northwestern close.
He finished with a team-high 23 points.
The Badgers led by as many as 10 points early in the second half but could not extend the lead because the Wildcats scored inside on set plays or after offensive rebounds.
When Audige scored on a drive, UW’s lead was 73-68 with 2:43 left.
Which team would make more game-winning plays down the stretch?
UW did, just enough to prevail again.
"No one said it was going to be easy,” Gard said. “And we know we are going to get teams’ best efforts. I thought Northwestern played well. …
"We were able to weather a storm – not be able to close it out at the line as we typically do but proud of our guys how we kept battling and showed some toughness, fought through some adversity and were able to get out of here with a victory."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Johnny Davis, Wisconsin beat Northwestern, UW tied for Big Ten lead