MADISON, Wis. (AP) In a season of upheaval, Wisconsin has finally found its groove.
The frontcourt is leading the way.
Nigel Hayes scored 31 points, Ethan Happ added 25 and the Badgers snapped No. 19 Indiana’s 12-game winning streak with an 82-79 victory in overtime on Tuesday night.
”It wasn’t the prettiest of fashions, but they kept finding a way, they kept battling,” interim coach Greg Gard said.
The Badgers (12-9, 4-4 Big Ten) have won three straight games, each by six points or less, after having lost three straight by five points or less.
They’re learning how to win close games, and Gard said that was in part due to the chemistry that has developed of late.
It can be quite a shock when a team loses its coach at midseason, like what happened to the Badgers when Bo Ryan retired last month.
”The chemistry and culture in the locker room has grown tighter and tighter,” Gard said. ”The cohesiveness and togetherness and how these guys are growing together is something that makes me extremely proud to be their coach.”
Wisconsin missed several chances in the closing minutes of overtime to put the game out of reach after Bronson Koenig and Jordan Hill each went 1 of 2 at the free throw line.
Kevin ”Yogi” Ferrell’s 3 with 5 seconds left pulled the Hoosiers within 80-79 before Hayes stretched the lead back to three with two free throws.
But Indiana (17-4, 7-1) never had a chance to give Ferrell one last shot to tie after Hayes tipped away OG Anunoby’s inbounds pass as time expired.
Ferrell finished with 30 points on 12-of-20 shooting. He was 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
”All things considered, I’m proud with the way my team battled,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. ”But at the same time, there were too many mistakes to win the game.”
Indiana had 19 turnovers and 31 fouls, giving Wisconsin 19 more opportunities at the free throw line.
Wisconsin extended its home winning streak against Indiana to 14 games.
Hayes, a veteran of Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Four runs, was 7 of 12 from the field and 17 of 22 from the free throw line. He also had a role in the game’s two biggest defensive plays.
Wisconsin led by six points late in the second half before the Hoosiers chipped away with a defensive stop and clutch shots from Ferrell, the quick and savvy senior. Ferrell scored Indiana’s last five points of the half.
But the 6-foot guard couldn’t hit his last one in regulation – a short, off-balance jumper with the 6-9 Hayes in his face with the score tied at 71.
Hayes is certainly not lacking in confidence.
”I try to say this as humbly and respectfully as possible, but I’ve got this mindset that I feel I’m the best player on the court and no one can guard me,” Hayes said.
IN THE LANE
Happ, a redshirt freshman, is Hayes’ new running mate up front. He was 10 of 15 from the field, deftly positioning his 6-9 frame in the lane against Indiana’s physical big man Thomas Bryant for baskets. Crean said Happ is especially tough when he’s able to hook an arm around a post defender.
Bryant, a freshman, had 16 points and seven rebounds.
AT THE LINE
Crean took notice to the disparity in foul calls and said the differential was a ”head-scratcher to me.” Wisconsin was 28 off 37 at the free throw line, compared with 16 of 18 for Indiana.
”I’ve got to watch the film to see what we can learn to do better, in getting fouled more,” Crean said.
Indiana: The Hoosiers’ blueprint for success this season is similar to the plan used by Wisconsin the previous two seasons. Entering Tuesday night, Indiana was averaging 1.20 points per possession, the second-most efficient mark in the country. The Hoosiers were third in the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing 64 points a game.
Wisconsin: The Badgers took their first lead of the game, 24-22, late in the first quarter when Hill drilled a 3 from the corner. It came during a brief stretch when the Badgers had all five starters on the bench. … Wisconsin last lost at home to Indiana on Jan. 25, 1998, 69-59.
Indiana: Hosts Minnesota on Saturday.
Wisconsin: At Illinois on Sunday.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP