CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Nothing much was working for Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor early in Sunday’s game.
The Badgers guard struggled with his offense and headed to the locker room at halftime with five points on 2-of-6 shooting in the face of some tough defense by No. 22 Illinois.
But when it mattered most, Taylor found himself with the ball, driving across the lane as the shot clock wound down with under a minute to play. The senior hit a midrange jumper that gave the Badgers a five-point lead and that bit of breathing room was enough for Wisconsin to hold on for a 67-63 victory over the Illini.
“The opportunity presents itself and I try to knock shots down,” said Taylor, who finished with 19 points. “I’m still not doing a great job of that.”
Badgers coach Bo Ryan said his team had to scrap for its fourth straight win after three consecutive Big Ten losses.
“We have to do those things to be successful,” he said. “We don’t strike fear in a lot of hearts when we show up.”
The Illini led deep into the second half but lost its second straight since their upset of then-No. 5 Ohio State landed them briefly in first place in the Big Ten.
“This is one we let slip away, that’s for sure,” said 7-foot-1 Meyers Leonard, who led Illinois with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Joseph Bertrand added 15 points for Illinois (15-5, 4-3).
Jared Berggren had 18 points for the Badgers (16-5, 5-3) and it was his defense that limited Leonard’s opportunities.
Illinois took a 50-46 lead with just over 9 minutes to play on a jumper by Leonard, but the Badgers went on a 7-0 run to retake the lead.
Taylor hit a short jump shot, Mike Bruesewitz made a 3-pointer and Ben Brust added a fast break layup that put the Badgers up 53-50. The sellout crowd at Assembly Hall went quiet as the Badgers bench, coaches included, jumped to their feet, many of them shouting a collective “Yeah!”
“They went on that 7-0 run, it was kind of a turning point,” Leonard said.
Bruesewitz’s 3-pointer with 7:42 left in the game typified the scrappy play Ryan talked about.
Brust initially missed from long range after a turnover by Brandon Paul, but Berggren lunged toward the sideline in front of the Wisconsin bench to pick up the rebound, feeding it back to Brust and, eventually, the ball found the open Bruesewitz on the opposite side of the court.
The Badgers finished with 10 second-chance points.
“They made the plays and you have to give them credit,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “They out-toughed us and outhustled us.”
The Illini tied the game at 53-53 with 5:16 to play on a basket by Bertrand, but a jumper by Brust put the Badgers up for good, 55-53, with just over 5 minutes left.
D.J. Richardson added 13 points for the Illini and Paul, two games removed from a 43-point night against the Buckeyes, had 10.
Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser drew the assignment of controlling Paul, and was effective. Paul was 3 of 11 from the field, including missing two 3-point attempts.
“(Paul) has probably been the best player in the league the last couple of games,” Taylor said. “Josh did a great job of coming in and slowing him down.”
While Taylor struggled early for the Badgers, Bertrand found his shooting stroke midway through the first half, and finished with 12 points over the first 20 minutes. They included two on a drive and short jumper just before the buzzer that tied the game at 26-26.
“Joe was very good in the first half and kind of kept us going,” Weber said.
Bertrand’s early hot hand made up for a cold first half by Paul and Richardson. Between them they went to the locker room with seven points on 2-of-12 shooting
Wisconsin finished with 10 turnovers, but had eight by the half – one short of its average for a game. That and the Badgers’ 2-of-8 shooting from the free throw line in the first half were the biggest reasons Illinois was in the game.
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