Badgers: NCAA tournament hopes take another hit with close loss to Purdue

Wisconsin was unable to get the win it desperately needed Thursday, falling 63-61 to No. 5 Purdue on Senior Night at the Kohl Center.

The Badgers put up a valiant fight against the Boilermakers, who snapped a two-game losing streak to Wisconsin and clinched its first outright Big Ten title since 2017. Purdue didn’t make a shot in the final 5:42 but still led 58-57 with 36 seconds left. Max Klesmit drove for the go-ahead layup but couldn’t get it to fall. It was Wisconsin’s last best chance to take the lead as it turned into a free throw contest the rest of the way with Purdue hitting all but one in the final seconds.

Klesmit powered Wisconsin’s offense with 19 points, including 17 in the second half. Chucky Hepburn had 13 points, while Connor Essegian was held to eight points. The star freshman was limited to eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. The Badgers did get a lift off the bench from Issac Lindsey, who hit a couple 3-pointers in the first half and had eight points.

But Wisconsin’s bigs struggled inside against the interior defense of Purdue, led by 7-foot-4 Zach Edey. Tyler Wahl, potentially playing his final home game, went 2-for-11, while Steven Crowl was 1-for-5. Edey, meanwhile, paced the Boilermakers with 17 points and 19 rebounds, including six on the offensive end.

It was another late kick to the teeth for Wisconsin in a season full of them. The game was the eighth of the last nine that was decided by five points or less or in overtime, with the Badgers dropping to 3-5 in those contests. It also left the team 8-11 in Big Ten play and likely set to finish in the bottom four of the conference for the first time since 1997-98.

Wisconsin was one of the last four teams in the tournament entering the night, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. But at 16-13 and not having back-to-back wins since early January, the Badgers are likely to be on the outside looking in with the next update. It means a win at Minnesota on Sunday and multiple wins at the Big Ten Tournament next week in Chicago will probably be needed for the Badgers not to miss March Madness for just the second time in the last 24 tournaments.