EVANSTON, Ill. (AP)—Alando Tucker figures Wisconsin would have lost a game like this in the past. With higher expectations and more poise, however, this Badgers team isn’t like the others.
Tucker scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and No. 3 Wisconsin held off Northwestern 56-50 Saturday for its 13th consecutive win.
“In years past, this was a Northwestern victory,” Tucker said. “For us to leave with the win, it shows me a lot.”
The Wildcats’ Jeff Ryan hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 52 seconds left to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 52-50, but Kammron Taylor and Tucker each hit two free throws for the Badgers to clinch the victory.
Tucker, the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer, finished 5-of-12 after shooting just 1-of-5 in the first half. He hit a 3-pointer that made it a four-point game with 5:11 remaining, and his acrobatic drive along the baseline made it 50-44 with 3 minutes left.
Taylor was 3-for-12 and finished with 12 points after scoring a season-high 25 in Tuesday’s 72-69 win over fifth-ranked Ohio State. Marcus Landry scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots. Brian Butch added nine points and seven rebounds for Wisconsin (17-1, 3-0 Big Ten).
The Badgers were happy to win their first conference road game, even though they struggled against a team expected to finish near the bottom of the league— and a large part of the crowd was dressed in red.
“It’s a good start for us,” Landry said. “Our first road win in the Big Ten is something special for us, and it gives us confidence to go on the road and play and not worry about what the crowd is doing. It gives us a boost. It shows a lot. We can learn a lot from this win.”
Ryan had 18 points for Northwestern (10-7, 0-4), which lost its fourth straight. The Wildcats’ last win over a top-five team was on Jan. 27, 1979, against No. 4 Michigan State. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier, with a game at Ohio State on Wednesday.
The Wildcats lost their first three conference games by an average of 19 points and were without leading scorer Kevin Coble, who twisted his ankle Wednesday against Michigan State. That didn’t stop them from making things as difficult as they could for Wisconsin.
Northwestern scored the final eight points of the first half to go ahead 26-24, and it traded leads with Wisconsin until Tucker hit a tough jumper from the elbow that put the Badgers ahead 43-42 with 7:10 left. Tucker made it 46-42 about two minutes later, when he rebounded Taylor’s missed layup and dribbled to the corner for a 3-pointer.
He made it 50-44 when he drove the baseline and pumped in mid air before laying the ball in with 3 minutes left. But the Badgers, whose only loss was 66-64 at Missouri State on Nov. 24, could not relax.
Every time they appeared poised to pull away, Northwestern answered. Ryan’s 3 whipped the Northwestern faithful into a frenzy. Taylor got fouled in the lane with 19 seconds left and hit both free throws. And Tucker added two more with 9 seconds left.
“I didn’t make enough plays down at the end, and Tucker made a ton of plays,” said Northwestern’s Tim Doyle, who had 11 points. “I knew he was going to try to take over, and he did. He took over, and I didn’t. That’s why he’s the (preseason) player of the year in the conference, and I’m not.”
Landry did his part, too, blocking a 3-pointer by Vince Scott with 3:22 left and the lead at four and rejecting a jumper by Craig Moore with 1:34 remaining.
“They’re good penetrators, so what I was trying to do is not help too much and force them to kick the ball out so they could take perimeter shots,” Landry said. “I closed out on my man very well. I discouraged them from shooting the 3 when they saw me coming out.”
From the start, this was a difficult game for Wisconsin.
Northwestern jumped to a 13-9 lead before the Badgers seemed to take control, going on a 15-5 run over the next eight minutes. But the Wildcats ended the half on that 8-0 run.
“Our team wasn’t in the flow,” Tucker said. “Defensively, we were doing some good things, but we let it go in the last two, three minutes of the first half. We understood that—all of us.
“We had one of the worst halves we could play, and we were still only down by two.”