Penn State scored 81 points — 81! — against Wisconsin in a win Saturday, the kind of game you just never see the Badgers play. The Nittany Lions won that one, 81-71.
You just had to figure the rematch Tuesday in Madison would go a lot differently. And it did.
Wisconsin bounced back with an excellent defensive effort in the second half, and Penn State went ice cold from the field in a 72-56 loss to the No. 19 Badgers. Wisconsin improved to 20-0 all-time at home against the Nittany Lions.
As former Wisconsin player Brian Butch said on the BTN postgame show, “This is the Wisconsin defense we expected, and we finally got that in the second half.”
Penn State led 31-30 in the closing seconds of the first half, then Brad Davison hit a 3 at the buzzer for a 33-31 Wisconsin lead. Things escalated quickly in the second half as the Badgers scored the first nine points as part of a 15-2 run that blew things open at 48-33.
Wisconsin did play very good defense, to be sure, after giving up a season-high 81 points the last game. But Penn State also missed a lot of good looks in the second half, especially early as the Badgers were pulling away.
“You got to give them credit, they’re a great defensive team,” PSU interim coach Jim Ferry said. “I said it the other night, I thought we were able to get the game at our pace and tempo in our place. And we scored 81 against them.
“This is our lowest output in league play, I think. We scored 58 against Michigan and 56 tonight. You’ve got to give them credit. I mean they really came in, they locked in, they guarded us. I thought we did have some good looks in the second half, I really did. At the beginning we had a flurry of open 3s and layups, even a couple free throws that we missed that normally we’ll make. But you got to give them credit, they’re exceptional team, they’re exceptional defensive team.”
This game was the opposite of Saturday’s contest, in which Penn State started well in the second half to take control. This time, the Badgers stormed ahead big with the huge run early in the second half.
That run was preceded by the Davison 3 that ended the first half and gave the Badgers the lead. That kind of shot can have a big impact on players mentally going into the half, but Ferry didn’t seem to think the shot was a big factor in the momentum swing.
Myreon Jones led PSU with 14 points, and John Harrar had 10, but they were the only two in double figures.
Wisconsin got 17 points off the bench from Jonathan Davis, to go along with 13 from Davison and 12 from Micah Potter.
Penn State dropped to 3-7 in the Big Ten, 6-8 overall. This loss had to be expected and actually doesn’t hurt the Lions’ NCAA Tournament hopes as badly as their current league record may indicate.
As we pointed out in this bubble breakdown story, Penn State could afford to lose this game and still have a path to finish 8-10 in the Big Ten, which should be enough to make the NCAA Tournament.