MADISON, WIS. – Wisconsin may have been expecting another easy game against the Panthers at Kohl Center, but Milwaukee had other ideas, as the visitors pulled off a stunning 68-67 upset behind a career-best 22 points from guard Jordan Johnson on Wednesday night.
It was coach Rob Jeter’s first victory over his former mentor (Badgers’ coach Bo Ryan) and the first victory for UWM over its in-state rival since the 1992-93 season. Jeter talked about the good feeling of exorcising past demons from visits to Madison.
“I don’t know where to begin. I guess the first thing is that I am really happy for our seniors – J.J. Panoske, Matt Tiby and J.R. Lyle – we have had some tough nights here in the Kohl Center,” he said. “Pretty similar to that first half, but through it all we kept ourselves within range. That 10-0 run to start the second half gave us a belief that we had a chance to do something special.”
Forward Nigel Hayes, a starter on last year’s national runner-up team, scored 32 points to lead Wisconsin. The home squad held a 15-point lead in the first half, but Milwaukee was able to cut that to 11 at halftime. That lead would be cut to four after the Panthers would continue the momentum, scoring the first seven points in the second half. After the Badgers pushed it back up to eight, they went cold, and Milwaukee would gradually chip away.
UWM would eventually cut the lead to one at 54-53, then Hayes scored all the points of a 6-2 spurt to inch the lead back to five. After that, forward Austin Arians, who had been 0-for-9 from three, finally buried a deep jumper to bring the gap back to two.
Hayes subsequently missed a three from the right wing, and forward Matt Tiby led a fast-break in which he was fouled on the transition layup. He would knock down both free throws to even the score at 60 apiece with just over three minutes to play.
After another empty UW possession, Johnson hit a tough inside shot over guard Bronson Koenig to give the Panthers their first lead of the game. The Badgers never led after that. Jeter talked about Johnson’s brilliant effort.
“He was fabulous tonight,” he said. “He might be 5-foot-9, but tonight he played like he was seven feet. He really attacked the rim in the land of giants and really made some plays for us. I can’t say enough about him. Here’s a young man that just a few months ago was playing junior college basketball and tonight he’s in the Kohl Center playing against a team that was in the national title game. And he didn’t seem phased by it.”
Hayes single-handedly (literally) kept Wisconsin in the game, hitting four free throws, with a Johnson floater sandwiched between them.
Tiby came up with a huge defensive play late. After guard Akeem Springs hit two free throws to give Milwaukee another two-point lead, the senior forward stepped in front of Badgers’ forward Vitto Brown and drew a charge to preserve a lead that lasted until the end.
After Arians air-balled a three in which he may have been hit on the elbow by Hayes (no call), the latter came down and drew another foul. However, exhaustion may have set in, as he missed both free throws. Springs grabbed the rebound and hit another pair from the line at the other end to push the Panthers’ lead to four with 22 seconds left.
Koenig, the other key returnee from last year’s Wisconsin squad, buried a three from the left wing to cut the lead to one.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, Wisconsin forced a turnover when Milwaukee forward J.J. Panoske dove on the floor for a loose ball, but rolled over with it, inducing a traveling call.
However, the Panthers would not be denied their best chance to defeat the Badgers in the Bo Ryan era, as the defense forced Koenig to settle for an outside shot that fell short, and Springs cleared the final rebound and killed the clock for the scintillating victory.
Milwaukee will look to keep the momentum from the win over the Badgers going as it returns to Panther Arena to take on Judson at noon on Sunday. Wisconsin remains at home to take on Marquette on Saturday.