Chucky Hepburn's big plays late help Wisconsin beat USC for third place in Battle 4 Atlantis

Badgers guard Chucky Hepburn passes ahead to Tyler Wahl after a scramble for the ball in Friday's game.
Badgers guard Chucky Hepburn passes ahead to Tyler Wahl after a scramble for the ball in Friday's game.

Chucky Hepburn spent a significant amount of time on his phone in the hours leading to Wisconsin’s game against USC in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Of particular interest were the text messages he received from teammates and head coach Greg Gard.

The theme: Relax, stop thinking so much and just play.

“It definitely feels good to be back in rhythm,” Hepburn said after scoring a season-high 17 points in UW’s 64-59 victory Friday afternoon in the third-place game. “I thank my teammates for having the confidence in me.”

As a result, UW (5-1) finished off a solid three-game run in the Bahamas with the victory.

The Badgers relied on their defense to edge Dayton, picked to win the Atlantic 10, by a point in the opening round and pushed No. 3-ranked Kansas in the semifinals before falling by a point in overtime.

They are set to host Wake Forest at 8 p.m. Tuesday before turning their attention to their road test against Marquette next Saturday.

Box score:Wisconsin 64, USC 59

The faith in and support of Hepburn was rewarded.

He entered the game shooting 29.4% from three-point range (5 of 17) and 26.8% overall (15 of 56). That included making just 5 of 33 shots (15.2%) in the previous three games.

The sophomore hit 3 of 4 three-pointers in the opening half Friday for nine points to help UW rally for a 36-34 lead. He contributed six points in UW’s 10-2 run over the final 4 minutes 57 seconds of the game and finished 3 of 5 from three-point range and 7 of 13 overall.

”Every player goes through rough spots,” Gard said. “You’re not going to play on a high level like he has all the time. There’s going to be downs and peaks and valleys. You try to minimize how deep you go when there is a valley.

“For him, just stay positive. Not overthink it. I thought at times he has been playing hesitant and slow.

“That tells me he is overthinking it. So I just (said): ‘Just play ball. Don’t overthink this. I’ll help you correct some of the technical things but just go play.’

“And he did that today.”

UW’s lead was 60-57 when Hepburn drove into the lane and hit a floater with one second left on the shot clock and 1:07 left in the game.

The lead was 62-59 when Hepburn got switched off onto Drew Peterson after a USC timeout with 20.1 seconds left. Hepburn, knowing UW had four fouls to give, went for the steal, tipped the ball away and drove in for a basket and a five-point lead with 10.7 seconds left.

“I recognized (Peterson) was dribbling the ball with his right hand the whole game,” said Hepburn, who had two of UW’s six steals. “I made a play on the ball to be able to steal it.”

Game over.

Tyler Wahl, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds in the overtime loss to Kansas on Thursday, contributed 14 points, nine rebounds and three assists against USC.

Wahl started the 10-2 run with a basket to pull UW within 57-56 and added another basket for a 60-57 lead with 3:29 left.

“We’ve got a close group of guys,” Wahl said. “No one wants to let each other down.”

Freshman Connor Essegian scored in double figures for the third game in the tournament. He hit 4 of 6 three-pointers for 12 points. He added four rebounds.

Jordan Davis came in 4 of 18 from three-point range and 12 of 36 overall. He hit 3 of 5 shots and contributed eight points, three rebounds and one assist.

Steven Crowl had eight points, seven rebounds and three assists.

USC came in shooting just 29.5% from three-point range but the Trojans started out hot from beyond the arc and never cooled. They hit 11 of 23 attempts (47.8%).

Peterson (14.7 points per game) and Boogie Ellis (18.5 points per game) led the Trojans with 17 and 15 points, respectively.

However, both players struggle to score after halftime.

Ellis missed both three-point attempts and hit just 1 of 7 shots overall in the second half. After scoring 13 points in the first half, he added just two.

Peterson hit 3 of 4 three-pointers in the second half but missed all seven attempts from inside the arc. He added nine points in the second half but missed open looks and lost the ball to Hepburn on the Trojans’ next-to-last possession.

Nicolet High School graduate Kobe Johnson added eight points and five assists for the Trojans.

The Trojans scored just two points in the last 5:41 and hit 1 of their last 10 shots.

“Wisconsin is an outstanding basketball team,” said USC coach Andy Enfield, whose team lost to Tennessee in overtime Thursday. “Our kids played hard but we have to be able to find a way to score in the last few minutes of the game."

The Badgers, who missed 10 consecutive shots during one ugly stretch in the second half, hit the shots they need to down the stretch. As a result, they rebounded from the crushing one-point loss to Kansas one day earlier.

"Really proud of our group," Gard said. "They responded when they needed to. Chucky made a huge play there at the end with the steal but just a phenomenal group effort. Third game in three days, against three good teams.

"We learned a lot. We’ve grown a lot in this three-day span that is going to help us going forward."

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin beats USC for third place in the Battle 4 Atlantis