Tournament time is when seniors are supposed to shine. Wisconsin’s big-named seniors did just that on Thursday night, leading the Badgers to an 84-74 victory over Virginia Tech in an NCAA tournament Round of 64 matchup.
Point guard Bronson Koenig went off from deep, hitting a school record eight three-pointers en route to 28 points on the night. Fellow senior, Nigel Hayes, added a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Even the bench got involved, as sophomore forward Khalil Iverson added a needed 11 points and seven rebounds in the win. He did most o his damage down low, including drawing plenty of attention from the Hokies defenders, resulting in Iverson going 7-of-10 from the free throw line.
Virginia Tech kept things close until the final minute, in large part due to senior Zach LeDay. He led all Hokies with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. He also had four rebounds, while Ty Outlaw chipped in a team-high seven rebounds to go with 16 points in the loss.
The start felt very familiar to those who have seen this team all season. Wisconsin made a few early shots, but then went ice-cold from the field. A 2-of-11 start from the field also led to the Hokies taking a 10-6 lead with 14:10 to play in the first half.
However, the Badgers didn’t give up and kept it close with some good defensive effort and some streaky three-point shooting. Eventually the shooting came around UW answered with a 12-2 run near the middle of the first half. At that point it was Wisconsin up 20-14 with 9:05 to play in the half.
That all happened with sophomore center Ethan Happ on the bench after picking up his second foul before the 10-minute mark of the first half. He had just two points in the half.
Koenig knocked down a three-pointer to put the Badgers up 13-12 with 11:46 to go in the first half and Wisconsin didn’t give up the lead again in the half — leading 34-30 at intermission.
The senior guard was also critical to UW’s production from beyond the arc, hitting three of his eight made three-pointers in the first half alone. It led to Koenig leading all players with 11 points in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Coming in to the game, rebounding was one of the major talking points and it was surely a huge help to the Badgers in the first half. UW allowed Virginia Tech to shoot 50% from the field and countered by shooting just 37.5 percent. However, an 11-3 advantage in offensive rebounds led to a 21-12 advantage in overall rebounds.
UW kept at it on the boards, winning that battle 43-28 on the night and out-rebounding the Hokies 21-12 on the offensive glass.
It was a good thing, as even Koenig’s big night beyond the arc couldn’t fully shake the Hokies. That was in large part because Virginia Tech took advantage of Wisconsin’s inability to work well with the pick and roll. It led to a massive advantage at the free throw line, as the Hokies connected on 16 of 21 free throw attempts in the second half alone.
Their work at the free throw line kept this game close for large stretches, but eventually UW’s hot three-point shooting and its ability to connect at the charity stripe were just too much.
Wisconsin never led by more than six points until late. In fact, the Hokies were dangerously close to taking the game over more than once in the second half.
The game never got closer than UW’s 60-59 lead with 8:51 to play in the game. Koenig responded with a three-pointer and it kept the Hokies at bay until just a few minutes later.
With Wisconsin leading 67-61 and seemingly pulling away, LeDay and guard Seth Allen combined for a 5-0 run to pull Va Tech within a point. After trading buckets, it was once again Koenig and his clutch play beyond the arc that broke a near deadlock.
His make from deep put the Badgers up 72-68 with 5:17 to play, but it wasn’t enough to completely put away the Hokies. Instead, the game kept crawling along until Hayes and Ethan Happ stepped up for a 5-0 run that put Wisconsin up 79-73 with 1:21 to play.
From there it was all Wisconsin, who made five of its final six free throws and iced the game away.
The late-game heroics at the line were unexpected but a welcome sight as well. Just how unexpected though? Try this:
#Badgers shot 76.0 percent from the free throw line. Best mark since Dec. 23 vs. Florida A&M (min. 10 attempts).
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) March 17, 2017
Wisconsin advances to take on No. 1 overall seed Villanova in a Round of 32 matchup on Saturday at 1:40p.m. CT on CBS.