Wake Forest 78, Wisconsin 75: Last word

MADISON — Wisconsin’s defense failed to show up for the first time this season and it led to a 78-75 loss to Wake Forest on Tuesday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Player of the Game: Tyree Appleby

The sixth-year senior, playing for his third team, was a major force that the Badgers had little answer for. He dropped 32 points, including 14 points over a 5-minute period that kept Wake Forest in the game. In that stretch, he matched every big shot from Wisconsin with one of his own, helping the Demon Deacons erase a 57-52 lead.

He drilled four 3-pointers and shot 11-for-16 overall. His quickness proved to be a major issue for Wisconsin and he was able to get inside almost at will. While Chucky Hepburn drew the assignment much of the night, coach Greg Gard said there was blame throughout the team for not being able to slow Appleby.

The good: Big three go off

Coming into the year the Badgers figured they’d need to rely on Hepburn, Tyler Wahl, and Steven Crowl to carry the scoring load. While that hasn’t exactly played out due to the emergence of freshman Connor Essegian, it was largely the case on Tuesday night. The trio combined to score 55 of Wisconsin’s 75 points. Hepburn led the way with a career-high 23 points, including six 3-pointers. Wahl had 17, while Crowl had a season-high 15 points and seven rebounds.

Wahl would have liked to score one more bucket, as his layup attempt in the final 15 seconds couldn’t find the bottom of the net and Wake Forest was able to salt the game away at the free throw line.

The not so good: The defense

Wisconsin has used its defense to get off to a good start this season, holding opponents to 54.0 points per game and allowing teams to shoot just 37-percent from the field. Wake Forest, though, had its way throughout the night. The Deacs, which came into the game averaging 81 points, started 9-for-10, and would go on to score 19 points more than any other team had against the Badgers in a non-overtime game this season. For the night, Wake Forest shot 53.7%, taking advantage of a lot of good looks around the basket.

“It’s a good learning experience for us, because we’ve talked about this a lot,” coach Greg Gard said. “We’ve had flashes of inconsistency, but we’ve always caught ourselves. Tonight, we didn’t catch ourselves.”

If the Badgers are going to have success this year, it’s going to be because of what they do on the defensive end. It wasn’t nearly good enough Tuesday night.

Stat of the Game: 4

That is how many Wisconsin players got saddled with two fouls in the first half. That included Wahl, Essegian and Jordan Davis. Those three played significantly less minutes than they normally do, leading others to have to play more than normal and throwing Gard’s substitution patterns out of whack.

The officiating overall was uneven at best and poor at worst. Calls late in the first half drew the ire of the Kohl Center fans and the officials were booed off the court at halftime.

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In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin welcomed back former star Wesley Matthews, as the program continues to celebrate its 125th year of basketball.

— ESPN announced Monday that this would the 24th and last year of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The network is changing it to the ACC/SEC Challenge next year, following the Big Ten’s new TV deal with FOX, CBS and NBC. Wisconsin finished the challenge 12-12.

— Essegian continues to score in bunches for the Badgers. He had 12 points, including 10 in the second half, as he hit double figures for a fourth-straight game. He’s now tied with Hepburn at 9.7 points per game and is shooting 54.2% from beyond the arc.

— Wake Forest was not going to let Wisconsin tie things up with a 3-pointer at the end of the game. The Demon Deacons had lost a game last week when they didn’t foul Loyola-Marymount up three late in the game and eventually fell in overtime. This time they fouled Hepburn once and the sophomore thought they were going to do it again on the next possession, so he tried to draw contact and get three free throws. But there was no call and his shot was came nowhere close to dropping. Wake Forest corralled the rebound and the ran the clock out.

— Fans were forced to stay in the arena for a time after the game due to a police situation outside the Kohl Center. There was a shooting earlier in the day on State Street, just blocks from the Kohl Center, and authorities were reportedly still looking for the suspect. Police eventually gave the all-clear and fans were able to exit relatively quickly.

What’s next?

Wisconsin (5-2) will travel to face in-state rival Marquette on Saturday. The Golden Eagles hammered No. 6 Baylor 96-70 on Tuesday to improve to 6-2 on the year.