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Takeaways from Wisconsin’s deflating loss to No. 2 Purdue

Wisconsin fell just short of a signature win Sunday afternoon: No. 2 Purdue entered the Kohl Center and escaped with a 75-69 victory.

The Badgers were in it throughout, though always lacked the defining moment or run to take control.

Related: Wisconsin social media irate after the Badgers’ narrow loss to No. 2 Purdue

The loss is the team’s second of the week against a Quad 1 opponent (Thursday at Nebraska). It’s a massive missed opportunity, too. Purdue holds a 1 1/2-game lead atop the Big Ten standings.

There’s a lot to say about the contest and what it means for the Badgers. First, here are our takeaways:

Greg Gard's plan against Zach Edey was fantastic

Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Purdue’s Zach Edey (15) is swamped by Wisconsin forward Tyler Wahl (5) and forward Steven Crowl (22) during the first half at Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports
Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Purdue’s Zach Edey (15) is swamped by Wisconsin forward Tyler Wahl (5) and forward Steven Crowl (22) during the first half at Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue’s win came thanks to many things, but not necessarily the offensive contributions from Zach Edey.

Greg Gard did a masterful job at doubling from different points, messing with Edey’s timing and not allowing him to gain a rhythm. The big man and Naismith contender finished with 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting — that’s a win considering the alternative.

Still, Edey was too much

Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15) is fouled by Wisconsin Badgers forward Tyler Wahl (5) during the first half at the Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports
Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Purdue Boilermakers center Zach Edey (15) is fouled by Wisconsin Badgers forward Tyler Wahl (5) during the first half at the Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Does Edey deserve the whistles he gets? I’m not going to litigate that. But it’s undeniable his sheer presence completely changed how Wisconsin could attack. Steven Crowl, Chucky Hepburn and others couldn’t attack the rim — forcing the team to settle for many ill-advised jumpers.

Then Edey on offense attracted the entire team’s attention, which gave Braden Smith and Lance Jones driving lanes all afternoon.

It’s a well-designed team around Edey, who instantly changes everything for opponents.

Purdue's offensive rebounding decided the game

Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Purdue center Zach Edey (15) out rebounds Wisconsin forward Tyler Wahl (5) during the first half at Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports
Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Purdue center Zach Edey (15) out rebounds Wisconsin forward Tyler Wahl (5) during the first half at Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue outrebounded Wisconsin, 42-29, and 14-10 on the offensive glass.

The Badgers seemed to fall just short when a big defensive rebound was necessary, which almost always immediately led to Purdue points.

Attribute this to Edey and just to a few bad bounces of the ball. But I’d argue Wisconsin rebounding better would’ve led to a clean victory.

Tyler Wahl was terrific

Tyler Wahl #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after defeating the against the Michigan State Spartans 70 -57 at Breslin Center on Dec. 5, 2023 in East Lansing, Michigan. Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Tyler Wahl #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after defeating the against the Michigan State Spartans 70 -57 at Breslin Center on Dec. 5, 2023 in East Lansing, Michigan. Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Sunday afternoon was Tyler Wahl’s best game this season, and maybe in years. He finished with 20 points on 10 of 16 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks.

When nobody else could attack the paint and finish inside, Wahl was there. When Wisconsin desperately needed a spark, Wahl gave it.

The Badgers lost due to several reasons. None was the play of Wahl.

Chucky Hepburn needs to score more

Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Wisconsin Badgers guard Chucky Hepburn (23) dribbles the ball against Purdue Boilermakers guard Braden Smith (3) during the first half at the Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports
Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Wisconsin Badgers guard Chucky Hepburn (23) dribbles the ball against Purdue Boilermakers guard Braden Smith (3) during the first half at the Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Chucky Hepburn has been a valuable part of the Badgers’ team all season, even though he averages just over seven points per game.

On Sunday he finished with six points — all in garbage time.

These are the games Hepburn needs to match the opposing point guard and contribute offensively. On Sunday, there seemed to be way too much passivity as opportunities for shots were passed up.

It’s fine to say that Hepburn needs to do more on offense.

Connor Essegian was a massive spark off the bench

Connor Essegian #3 of the Wisconsin Badgers reacts after the Wisconsin Badgers defeat the Liberty Flames in the second round of the NIT Men’s Basketball Tournament at Kohl Center on March 19, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin. John Fisher/Getty Images
Connor Essegian #3 of the Wisconsin Badgers reacts after the Wisconsin Badgers defeat the Liberty Flames in the second round of the NIT Men’s Basketball Tournament at Kohl Center on March 19, 2023 in Madison, Wisconsin. John Fisher/Getty Images

Connor Essegian’s lack of playing time has been a big story this season. On Sunday, his spark off the bench was massive in keeping the Badgers in the game until the last few minutes.

On a day when nobody on Wisconsin could find consistent shots on the perimeter, Essegian immediately helped. He finished with just six points on 3 of 7 shooting, but the eye test said he made a sizable positive impact.

A.J. Storr didn't do enough offensively

Jan. 26, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Wisconsin Badgers guard AJ Storr (2) dribbles the ball against Michigan State Spartans forward Coen Carr (55) during the second half at the Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports
Jan. 26, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Wisconsin Badgers guard AJ Storr (2) dribbles the ball against Michigan State Spartans forward Coen Carr (55) during the second half at the Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

This may have been A.J. Storr’s worst game as a Badger. Too often he fell victim to poor shot selection and low-percentage attempts.

He finished with just 14 points on 4 of 15 shooting and 0 of 4 from 3.

Storr needs to play like one of the sport’s stars if the Badgers are to make any sort of run in March.

The Big Ten refs took control of the game. Again.

Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard argues a call during the first half at Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports
Feb. 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin; Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard argues a call during the first half at Kohl Center. Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Not blaming a loss on the referees. But once again there was a clean, well-officiated basketball game with good flow going into the final 10 minutes. Then the refs took control.

With 10 minutes left, there were 12 fouls called on Wisconsin and seven on Purdue. Those tallies finished at 21 and 16 respectively.

Pair a questionable whistle for Edey, who doesn’t need it, with some odd missed calls down the stretch, and I’d call it a poor afternoon for officiating.

Story originally appeared on Badgers Wire