By: Corey Moen
So much for that.
In years past, this was a game Wisconsin would get up for. Instead, what Saturday’s game solidified is that this team can’t compete with top-dogs nor with teams who are in the middle-of-the-pack.
There is no excuse for Illinois to beat us six straight times. This is a game Wisconsin had to have to stay in the Big Ten race instead; Wisconsin now sits near the bottom with a 4-6 conference record which barring a miraculous run, the Badgers will miss the tournament for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
So what happened in today’s matchup? Here are some game observations
Wisconsin and Illinois combined to score 36 points in the first half (20-16 Illinois) which is the lowest amount of total points scored in a Big Ten game this season.
Illinois won largely by the play of Baylor transfer Matthew Mayer. Mayer scored 26 points on 9 of 19 shooting and 5 of 11 from the three-point line. Mayer was a matchup nightmare for the Badgers, particularly freshman guard Connor Essegian. Mayer who is listed at 6″9′, was able to not only get easy baskets going to the rim but shot over the smaller 6″4′ Essegian with ease.
Tyler Wahl couldn’t get in a rhythm on Saturday. Wahl spent most of the game in foul trouble but scored Wisconsin’s first seven points in the second half but picked up his fourth foul and had to sit for a big stretch of the game.
Chucky Hepburn after only scoring three points against Maryland on Wednesday got back on track with 15 points and five rebounds on Saturday afternoon.
But that was the only noteworthy performance as Wisconsin shot 33 percent from the field, and the three-point line.
The defensive positive in this game was after a 20-point performance in the January 7, matchup Wisconsin held Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins to five points on 1 of 3 shooting.
Wisconsin had too many defensive breakdowns in the second half on Saturday. Junior forward Tyler Wahl explains that while Wisconsin played well defensively in the first half, the second half was a different story.
“We relied on our defense in the first half and that usually keeps us in the game that’s how Wisconsin has always played.”
If the ball’s not going in we got to rely on our defense; in that second half we just kinda went away from that saw the ball go in a few times and we quit playing defense.” Wahl said of the lack of defensive fortitude on Saturday.
After Wisconsin took a 35-34 lead with 11:08 remaining, Illinois went on a 23-4 run to seal the game.
Head Coach Greg Gard explained that he thought Wisconsin had some good chances coming out of the timeout after taking the lead
“I thought we had some really good looks Connor we ran a few things for him it was one of those days. He hasn’t had many of them where he hasn’t been able to put the ball in the basket; today was a struggle for him offensively.”
Wisconsin next plays on Thursday February 2 against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Tip-off is set for 6:00 p.m.