Wisconsin 75, Liberty 71: Last word

MADISON — Second-seeded Wisconsin overcame a seven-point deficit in the second half to beat No. 3 Liberty 75-71 on Saturday to advance to the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Player of the Game: Chucky Hepburn

The sophomore hadn’t scored more than 12 points since Feb. 11 but he topped that roughly midway through the first half. He kept it going the rest of the game on his way to a career-high 27 points. Perhaps the most notable part of the scoring was none of it came from beyond the arc, where he went 0-for-6. Instead he was able to take advantage of the smaller Liberty guards to get inside and finish at the rim, going 9-for-14 inside the 3-point line. Hepburn also went 9-for-11 from the free throw line.

The good: Max Klesmit down the stretch

Klesmit didn’t score for the first 17:51 of the game but came through in the final 2:09 to help the Badgers get the win. He hit the only 3-pointer of the game to give Wisconsin a 68-67 lead, managed to get a left-handed layup high up off the glass to go for a 71-70 lead with 42 seconds left and then closed the game with two free throws in the final seconds to extinguish Liberty’s chances to tie the game.

The not so good: Connor Essegian’s outside shooting

The freshman may have hit a wall, as his long-distance shooting prowess has disappeared over the last 10 games. After an 0-for-4 effort on Sunday, Essegian is now shooting 21% (13-for-62) since Feb. 11. It has dropped his season average to 36.3%, which is still respectable. However, he’s a better shooter than what he’s shown for the last month but it appears a long season has finally taken its toll.

Stats of the Game:

6.7 — That was Wisconsin’s shooting percentage on 3-pointers, going 1-for-15.

54.0 — That was the Badgers shooting percentage for the game overall despite their woes from beyond the arc. It was their best performance of the year and their best since hitting 54.4% against Louisville in Dec. 2020.

80 — That’s how many points Wisconsin has scored in the paint over the last two games as the Badgers have taken control against team’s that haven’t been able to match their size.

16 — That’s how many points Tyler Wahl scored. It was the third time in the last four games the senior had at least 16 points.

In Case You Missed It

— Steven Crowl was hit with a technical and a flagrant foul near the end of the first half after getting into an altercation with Shiloh Robinson. The Wisconsin center appeared to get pulled down to the ground by Robison. He proceeded to get up and deliver a forearm to Robinson, who then went to the ground. Crowl got the technical foul for what he said as he walked away from Robinson, while the flagrant came for his physical actions. He told reporters that he obviously reacted poorly to the situation. Crowl didn’t score the rest of the game, ending up with 14 points.

— Wisconsin faced one of its toughest challenges in dealing with Darius McGhee. The diminutive Liberty guard was a problem with his quickness and constant movement. It helped him score 31 points, though it did take him 25 shots to get there. Hepburn called trying to slow McGhee a big “pain in the A-S-S.”

— Carter Gilmore’s stat line wasn’t impressive — no points and five rebounds — but his defense on McGhee on the final possession may have been the defensive play of the game. The 6-foot-8 Gilmore took the 3-pointer away from McGhee and then managed to stay in front of the ultra quick guard, causing a tough runner that didn’t fall.

— Nearly 10,500 people came to the game, about 6,500 more than were at the game on Tuesday night against Bradley. Coach Greg Gard lauded the noise they made, telling those that were there that don’t have season tickets to get them for next season because the Kohl Center needs to be like that more often.

— Hepburn spent a bunch of time after the game signing autographs and taking pictures with fans.

What’s next?

Wisconsin (19-14) will hit the road to face top-seeded Oregon (21-14) on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN in the NIT quarterfinals. The Ducks beat UCF 68-54 on Sunday to punch their ticket to the third round.

This will be the fourth postseason matchup between the two schools. Wisconsin beat Oregon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2014 and 2015 before the Ducks got a measure of revenge by knocking the Badgers out in the first round of the 2019 tournament.