INDIANAPOLIS — The Greg Gard Era officially began for Wisconsin on Thursday, and surely the new head coach of the Badgers wanted things to go any way but they way they went.
Wisconsin was atrocious offensively as an energized Nebraska squad pulled the upset, advancing to Day 3 of the Big Ten Tournament with a 70-58 win.
The Badgers shot just 30.2 percent from the field and went 4-for-20 from behind the 3-point line, while the Huskers shot 54.2 percent in the second half and ended up cruising to the surprising double-digit win.
The first half was grotesque if you were rooting for the Badgers. Aside from a terrific performance from Vitto Brown, who was 5-for-5 from the field with three 3s and scored 13 first-half points, Wisconsin was offensively inept. The Badgers only made two baskets outside of Brown's efforts, his teammates going 2-for-19 from the field for just eight points. Wisconsin shot just 29.2 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes and missed five of the nine free throws it took.
Nebraska wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire in the first half, either, shooting 40 percent from the field and scoring just 26 points. But the Huskers were seemingly taking the ball away from the Badgers at will, forcing seven turnovers. That still didn't allow them to build a big lead, though, as the Huskers never got ahead by more than seven despite several long stretches without a basket by the Badgers.
To perfectly illustrate how Nebraska couldn't come close to taking advantage of Wisconsin's offensive woes, all it took was an 8-0 burst by the Badgers to grab a 29-27 lead in the early stages of the second half. Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes finally saw the ball go through the basket after not hitting a field goal in the first half. But the Huskers responded immediately as the Badgers went cold again, going on an 11-4 run to retake the lead as the Badgers went nearly four minutes between baskets. Nebraska held a modest lead, with Wisconsin closing it to two thanks to a personal 5-0 burst by Ethan Happ, but the lead was back out to seven in a flash when the Huskers scored five consecutive points of their own. The Badgers closed within a possession numerous times throughout the second half, but the Huskers seemed to have an answer each time. More turnovers were a problem, and on the defensive end, Wisconsin couldn't stop Nebraska from getting to the hoop.
A pair of free throws with under four minutes to play gave the Huskers their biggest lead of the game to that point at nine. That was still the margin with under two minutes to play, when Koenig hit a triple to cut it to six, but the Badgers came up empty on their next trip and the Huskers knocked down the requisite free throws to clinch the win.
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Wisconsin was just 1-for-10 from 3-point range over the final 20 minutes, shooting slightly better than it did in the first half but still poorly at 31 percent. Nebraska shot 54.2 percent in the second half and dominated the overall points-in-the-paint battle, 30-18, also outscoring Wisconsin by a ton in bench points, 18-2.
Shavon Shields scored 20 points to lead all scorers, scoring eight of those points from the free-throw line. Glynn Watson Jr. scored 16 points for the Huskers, Benny Parker had 12 points and Andrew White III had 10.
Happ led the Badgers with 17 points, with Brown scoring 16 — just three in the second half — Koneig adding 11 and Hayes contributing 10.
The loss was a mighty disappointing one for Wisconsin, which looked like one of the teams that could win the Big Ten Tournament. It will await its NCAA tournament destination with its 20-12 overall record and 12-7 mark against Big Ten opponents.
The Huskers kept their season alive with the win and will face Maryland on Friday.