Senior Tyler Wahl returns to form and helps Wisconsin pick up a crucial overtime victory at Penn State
STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania – Welcome back, Tyler Wahl.
Wisconsin's senior forward, who hadn't been the same since suffering a severe ankle injury on Jan. 3 against Minnesota, walked out of the UW locker room inside the Bryce Jordan Center on Wednesday night with a brilliant smile that captured the emotion of his team's 79-74 overtime victory.
"That felt good," Wahl said, suddenly finding himself in a bearhug from head coach Greg Gard. "I’m feeling good."
Wahl and his teammates were ecstatic to secure a critical road victory -- after giving up a game-tying three-pointer with 23.1 seconds left in regulation.
"It’s not only good for myself but it’s good for my team," said Wahl, who missed three games after suffering the injury. "Because a lot of these guys rely on me for energy, effort.
"And when I wasn’t myself when we were losing these games, I had to look in the mirror and really take that upon myself and change my approach to the game."
BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 79, Penn State 74
Wahl, limited to five points and one rebound in UW's two-point loss to Northwestern on Sunday, finished with 16 points, eight assists, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Wednesday was his seventh game back since the injury. In the previous six games he averaged just 8.8 points and 3.8 rebounds and shot just 38.2%.
Wahl hit 2 of 4 free throws in the overtime Wednesday and found Steven Crowl in the lane for a basket to give UW a 74-70 lead with 1 minute 30 seconds left in the game.
"I saw the old Tyler," said Crowl, limited to 23 minutes 41 seconds because of foul trouble. "I don’t know if he is completely healthy yet but he is almost there. We saw that tonight, getting down low and making those moves we’re used to seeing and playing like the all-Big Ten, all-American we know he is.
Crowl, limited to five points and five field-goal attempts by Northwestern's tenacious double-teams, contributed 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists against Penn State.
Penn State's lack of double-teams allowed Wahl and Crowl to do damage near the basket. Allowed to go mostly one-on-one, Wahl hit 6 of 10 shots and Crowl hit 5 of 5 shots.
"Especially early," Wahl said, "we saw them not coming to double-team. So we (said): 'OK, this is what we work on every day in practice. We were able to get a lot of good looks where we able to see the ball go in. That's a huge confidence builder."
Guards Chucky Hepburn, Connor Essegian, Max Klesmit and Jordan Davis all made critical plays in the victory.
Hepburn hit 5 of 9 three-pointers and finished with 19 points. His two free throws with 11 seconds left gave UW a 79-72 lead. Essegian hit 4 of 7 three-pointers and added 18 points. Klesmit contributed five points, three rebounds and an assist. He scored on a tough, left-handed drive to give UW a 76-72 lead with 45.4 seconds left.
Davis, a combined 1 of 9 from three-point range and 1 of 12 overall in the last four games, was solid from the start Wednesday. He hit his first three-pointer and finished with eight points, five rebounds and a steal..
"Solid minutes," Gard said of Davis.
The Badgers (14-9, 6-7 Big Ten), who desperately needed a victory, won for the second time in three games.
They also moved within one game of Michigan State (15-9, 7-6) and Maryland (16-8, 7-6) in the Big Ten and within 1 ½ games behind a trio of teams at 7-5 in league play.
Penn State (14-10, 5-8) suffered its third consecutive loss, and it lost at the Bryce Jordan Center for just the second time in 13 games this season. The first loss came against Michigan State in the Big Ten opener.
Jalen Pickett (17.3 ppg, 35.1% three-point shooting) scored 17 points, Camren Wynter added 15, Seth Lundy, who hit the three-pointer over Klesmit to force overtime, added 14. Andrew Funk added 10.
The Nittany Lions entered the game shooting 41.4% from three-point range and averaging 78.3 points at the Bryce Jordan Center.
UW limited the Nittany Lions to just 23 three-point attempts, below their average of 28.3 attempts per game. They were 0 of 5 from three-point range in overtime.
"We’ve got to do a better job finishing games," Lundy said.
UW had struggled to finish games recently, including a pair of losses to Northwestern. On Wednesday, the Badgers made the critical plays in overtime to steal a huge victory.
Next up is another road test, this time at 3 p.m. Saturday against Nebraska (11-14, 4-10).
"I don't think we can afford to lose any more," Hepburn said. "We've got to come prepared every game. We've got to win every game."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin survives in overtime against Penn State