January 24, 2010

Badgers claim victory in thrilling fashion

MADISON - It was a milestone day inside the Kohl Center for the Wisconsin men's basketball team. And by the end of it, it felt as though the Badgers had to storm back after being a mile behind to get the win.

Penn State, a team hanging out in the cellar of the Big Ten standings, entered the game as the lone remaining winless conference squad. On multiple occasions Sunday afternoon, it seemed as though the Nittany Lions were going to snap that skid and break the hearts of the Badgers in the meantime.

But behind a second half surge from the trio of Badger guards, particularly Jordan Taylor's 16 points over the final two minutes of regulation and overtime, and a strong 17-point effort from Keaton Nankivil, Wisconsin was able to claw back and steal a win in extra time from the hands of Penn State.

"I was going to say 'don't ask me what happened' again," UW head coach Bo Ryan, who recorded his 100th Big Ten win, said. "But I thought I should come up with something different.

"I couldn't come up with anything different."

Twice in the second half it looked as though Penn State had all but buried the Badgers. The first gloomy outlook for UW lurked around the 11-minute mark of the second half when the Nittany Lions broke open a game-high 16-point margin.

Led by Talor Battle's game-high 28 points, Penn State was riding a wave of emotion that eventually hit the Kohl Center faithful so hard that it began to realize a winnable game was slipping through the cold shooting fingers of the Badgers.

But then UW finally started to connect on the 33 three-point attempts and the defense locked down to help force Penn State into 18 turnovers.

"We just kept sticking to our stuff," UW senior guard Jason Bohannon said. "We knew shots would fall. It didn't look like it at times, but there were stretches when we got hot. Jordan certainly did towards the end of the game and that really propelled us to the victory.

"For us it was just a matter of rebounding and stuff. We still got beat up on the boards, but we still found a way to grind it out and get a victory."

In one of the more bizarre twists to a game full of surprises, the Badgers were pounded on the boards to the tune of a 38-24 margin but still came out with the win. UW also watched the Nittany Lions shoot over 50 percent from the floor, including a 46.7 percent clip from distance and still came out on the left hand side.

But the Badgers, like usual, did the little things and forced PSU into 18 turnovers that translated into 33 Wisconsin points. UW combined for 12 steals, 15 assists to only five turnovers and nine total blocks.

Perhaps the turning point of the game was when Bohannon saw Penn State's Andrew Ott, matched up with Trevon Hughes, about to score. The Badger senior sprinted down the baseline and swatted the ball away in incredible fashion.

Words simply can't do it justice.

"I don't know how I got that high," Bohannon, who reached the 1,000-point milestone with 13 points in the game said. "It was a read. I saw Trevon trying to get post position. The guy got it up over top of him and I was on the backside and decided to come over and help.

"I jumped as high as I could and I got it."

The block gave UW an edge and sense of urgency and helped propel them into a position where it cut the Penn State lead to three with eight minutes to play. But Penn State had another run in it.

And if that 16-point deficit with a nearly defunct offense looked bleak with more than half of the second half left to play, an eight point edge looked next to impossible with less than two minutes left.

But somebody forgot to tell Taylor, who finished with 20 points, that. And a series of bad shots and turnovers from Penn State, combined with the sudden burst from Taylor, eventually doomed the Nittany Lions.

After missing his first six shots badly, including a couple of air balls, Taylor struck fire over the final two minutes of the game. He finished the game connecting on six of his final eight shots.

"I finally got one to go down," Taylor, who also dished six assists without a turnover, said. "I didn't hit a shot in three, almost four halves so I figured one had to go down eventually. One went down and I just tried to keep shooting.

"Fortunately I started to get hot a little bit."

In overtime, UW utilized aggressive play from Hughes, who finished with a team high 22 points, and Taylor to pull away from Penn State and seal the win.

"It's about understanding that each possession has a value," Ryan said. "If you are not winning one battle, maybe in another battle you do. In our minds we don't go, 'Oh we are terrible, this that and the other thing.' There are a lot of different things you can do in the game of basketball that if you do well will always give you a chance. But there are things in the stats that if you don't do well, it doesn't mean you can't win the game.

"Our guys understand that pretty well."

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