(2) Wisconsin 81, Bradley 62: Last word

MADISON — Second-seeded Wisconsin outscored Bradley by 14 points in the second half on its way to an 81-62 win Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT.

Player of the Game: Steven Crowl

After playing just seven minutes in the second half in a disappointing effort against Ohio State last week, the Wisconsin junior came out determined to make amends and he did just that. Crowl had eight of the Badgers first 13 points, as he established himself inside against the smaller Bradley front court. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to score 19 points in the first half, including going 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. The 7-footer wasn’t done, though. He went off for another 17 points in the second to score 36 for the game, the most by a Wisconsin player in its postseason history.

The good: No lack of motivation

For some teams that come up short of an NCAA Tournament berth, a trip to the NIT feels more like a punishment than a reward. It’s a situation that played out earlier in the night at another Big Ten school as Rutgers fell to Hofstra two days after the Scarlet Knights were one of the biggest tournament snubs. But the Badgers did not fall victim to that against Bradley. Instead they played free and loose, posting their biggest margin of victory since beating Leigh by 22 in the middle of December.

The not so good: Rough shooting

It was not a great shooting night for Wisconsin’s leading scorers — Connor Essegian and Chucky Hepburn. The duo combined to go 3-for-18 from the floor and 2-for-12 from beyond the arc. It was a continuation of what happened in the Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State when they went 6-for-23 overall and 2-for-13 on 3-pointers.

Both were able to help in other ways, with Hepburn delivering five assists without a turnover, and Essegian going 9-for-9 from the free throw line.

What They Said:

Greg Gard on Crowl’s big night:

“I tell him all the time, I’ve seen all the bigs come through here in the last 20 years, and I think he can be right there with those guys that are on the Mount Rushmore so to speak of stretch bigs that we’ve had here in the last two decades. I think getting him to believe that is been the biggest thing. Tonight is a big step in that he played how I envisioned that he could play.”

Stats of the Game:

81 — That is how many points Wisconsin scored. It’s the most since scoring 85 in the season opener against South Dakota.

82.1 — That is what Wisconsin shot at the free throw line, about 15% higher than its season average. The 28 attempts were a season-high.

3 — That is how many turnovers Wisconsin had, which was a season-low.

16 — That is how many points Max Klesmit scored. It was the sixth time in the last nine games he’s been in double figures.

In Case You Missed It

— The announced attendance for the game was 3,919. In addition to the fact it was the NIT, some other factors in the small number of fans included Wisconsin’s students being on spring break, the game being at 8:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night, having just two days to sell tickets and a less than marquee opponent in Bradley.

— The Braves actually brought a good number of fans with them, as the trip from Peoria to Madison is about three hours.

— Tyler Wahl banged his knee midway through the first half and was forced to go back to the locker room for a short time. He returned, but was limited to just 17 minutes in large part due to foul trouble. He had three points and two rebounds.

— Wisconsin improved to 4-4 all-time in the NIT. The Badgers have never advanced past the second round of the tournament.

— Higher seeded teams went 6-2 on the first night of NIT action. Top-seeded Rutgers and fourth-seeded Washington State were the only favorites to lose.

What’s next?

Wisconsin (18-14) will host third-seeded Liberty (27-8) on Sunday at the Kohl Center. The Flames beat Villanova 62-57 Tuesday night in their first round game.