Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor gave Nebraska a chance at its biggest win of the season one moment, then snatched it right back a few seconds later.
With the Badgers up three points with 16 seconds left, Taylor missed the second of two free throws and NU's Dylan Talley grabbed the rebound. But Taylor ripped the ball away from Talley and Brandon Richardson was forced to put the Badger senior right back on the line with another foul.
This time Taylor knocked down both charity shots and the Huskers missed a couple of desperation shots to fall 50-45 to the Badgers in Madison, Wisc.
It was no coincidence that the game's deciding play came at the free throw line. NU edged the Badgers in several key statistical categories, but Wisconsin shot 24 free throws and made 18.
The Huskers attempted just two.
"It's amazing that the game was even as close as it was," coach Doc Sadler said in his postgame radio show on the Husker Sports Network. "They just did a much better job of not fouling I guess. We've got to be tougher in those situations."
Wisconsin lived off free throws attempts in the second half, making just two field goals in the last 12 minutes and none in the final 7:10.
But the Badgers stole points at the charity stripe and locked down the Huskers at the other end. NU shot 32.5 percent for the game.
The Huskers' only two free throws came with 5:17 left in the game when Brandon Ubel was fouled underneath the basket. He made both attempts.
After hanging around and trailing 24-21 at halftime, the NU offense vanished at the start of the second half. The Huskers made just two field goals in the first eight minutes after intermission, both on jump shots by Talley.
But NU battled back and pulled within three points on a Bo Spencer 3-pointer with 4:20 remaining. The only points over the next four minutes came on a pair of Wisconsin free throws until Talley hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to trim the deficit to two.
The Huskers fouled Taylor, who made both free throws. Spencer nullified the advantage by making a layup on the other end. NU again fouled Taylor, who made the first free throw before missing the second and swiping the ball from Talley to essentially ice the game.
Sadler was fine with his team's effort on the defensive end of the court. Although the Huskers allowed 17 offensive rebounds, Sadler said the defensive performance may have been the best in his six years at Nebraska.
After making 11 of 21 3-pointers and blowing out the Huskers in Lincoln on Dec. 27, Wisconsin was just two for 18 from long range Sunday and shot 31.3 percent overall.
"You're talking about a team that at one time was averaging 75 points a ball game," Sadler said. "We took away the three. For the most part, they shot contested threes today. The effort and everything was there."
The Badgers' other critical edge statistically came in the rebounding column, where Wisconsin dominated NU 42-28.
But in the postgame interview, Sadler kept coming back to the free throw discrepancy. He's pleaded with his team all year to get to the line more, making a point of bringing it up in nearly every postgame press conference.
The Huskers attempted 29 free throws in their last appearance, a win over Penn State last Wednesday. But whatever worked for them that night, they didn't bring it with them to Madison Sunday.
"They got 18 points at the free throw line and we got two, so there's a 16-point difference," Sadler said. "For us to win, I've said all along, you've got to get in the low 60s. We've got to find a way to get 10, 12, 14 points at the free throw line.
"Go figure. We just didn't get it done."
Around the rim
***Nebraska held Wisconsin to a season-low 31.3 percent from the floor. It is the second-lowest percentage allowed by Nebraska this season.
***Nebraska has now held four opponents to 50 points or less this season and falls to 3-1 on those games.
***Nebraska allowed a season-high 17 offensive rebounds, leading to 17 Wisconsin second-chance points.
***Nebraska forced 11 first-half turnovers, as Wisconsin came into the game leading the nation in fewest turnovers per game (8.8). The Badgers finished with 12 turnovers, while Nebraska had a season-low seven turnovers.
**Toney McCray's stretch of seven straight efforts in double figures ended today as he finished with seven points in the loss.