Wisconsin coach Greg Gard and his staff recruited Max Klesmit to Madison for these games, these moments.
Toughness, both physical and mental, can often prove to be the deciding factor in a game featuring two teams playing with tenacity for 45 minutes.
“That is one of the reasons we recruited him out of the portal,” Gard said after Klesmit scored the go-ahead basket in UW’s 80-77 overtime victory over Marquette on Saturday at Fiserv Forum. “The toughness. That play at the end to give us the lead, that was a toughness basket.”
Box score: Wisconsin 80, Marquette 77 (overtime)
With a crowd of 17,760 roaring, UW had the ball out of bounds with 26.1 seconds left in the overtime, including 24 seconds on the shot clock.
Chucky Hepburn, who missed about 13 minutes of the second half because of an apparent groin injury, dribbled away from a double-team on the left wing and along the baseline. Klesmit read the play beautifully and cut hard into the lane from the right wing.
Max Klesmit makes 'heck of a play' on game-winning jump hook in overtime
Hepburn fired a pass to Klesmit but it appeared Marquette’s Kam Jones poked the ball free from Klesmit’s right. Klesmit regained control and then used a jump hook to score over 6-foot-8 Olivier-Maxence Prosper to give UW a 79-77 lead with 3.5 seconds left.
“He willed his way in,” Gard said. “I saw all the arms on him and they’re not going to call that and they shouldn’t at that time. Let the players decide the game.
“He made a heck of a play to get that ball up on the rim.”
UW’s Tyler Wahl stole a long in-bound pass, was fouled and hit 1 of 2 free throws with 2.4 seconds left. He stole a second in-bounds pass to secure the victory.
Klesmit sparkles on offense and defense for the Badgers
Klesmit, a graduate of Neenah High School who transferred to UW after playing two seasons at Wofford, was terrific on both ends of the court.
He hit 4 of 8 shots, including 1 of 3 three-pointers, and 4 of 5 free throws to tie his season-high mark of 13 points. He added a season-high four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 34 minutes 22 seconds.
“Max is just a great all-around basketball player,” Wahl said. “He gets the game. He understands everything about it – time, possession, score … all that stuff. When he is on the court it is really nice just having another guy who really knows what’s going on.”
Gard turned to Kamari McGee in the opening half to fill in for Hepburn and the sophomore responded with five points and two rebounds.
Klesmit provides teammates with calming presence, delivers in key moments
But when Hepburn left the game just five seconds into the second half, Gard brought in freshman Connor Essegian and put the ball in Klesmit’s hands.
“He had the big task of controlling the game at point guard when Chucky was out,” Wahl said. “I thought he did a great job of distributing, keeping the players calm and getting us through that.”
Klesmit's final assist of the game was huge.
After the Golden Eagles missed 2 three-pointers in a tie game, Klesmit got the ball on the left wing, used a ball-fake to get around his defender and drove into the lane, drawing two defenders to him. Klesmit fired a pass to Jordan Davis on the right wing and Davis, 1 for 5 from three-point range and 2 for 10 overall at that point, buried the three-pointer for a 75-72 lead with 2:12 left in overtime.
“I tell everybody (that) he has a little Brad Davison in him," Hepburn said of Klesmit. "He doesn’t care who he is guarding, who he is playing against.
“He just wants to battle. He just wants to fight. I love playing with him.”
Klesmit came back to Wisconsin for moments like these.
A critical early-season game against an in-state rival and Klesmit delivered.
“Growing up in Wisconsin you know how big the rivalry is,” he said. “There is just a lot of pride, effort and really joy that goes into it.
“Being from the state you know it is going to be a grind.”
And make no mistake. Klesmit has talent, but he is a grinder who fits in perfectly with UW.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin native Max Klesmit sparks Badgers against Marquette