MADISON — Returning to full strength for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team was hoping to make a statement Saturday at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers did, but not the type they had expected.
By suffering an ugly 61-51 loss to Illinois, the Badgers showed they weren’t playing well enough to rack up 40 minutes of game-winning basketball at both ends of the court.
Greg Gard’s side can play in spurts, but it hasn’t been good enough and won’t be good enough for the rest of the season.
“We have to play 40 minutes,” said guard Max Klesmit, back in the lineup after missing two games with facial injuries and a concussion.
Cold shooting was the problem in the first half as the Badgers hit just 3 of 14 three-point shots (21.4%) and 6 of 33 total shots (18.2%) but trailed by just 20-16.
The score of the box:Illinois 61, Wisconsin 51
“I think our defense was outstanding,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said of the first half. “You don’t do that against a Wisconsin team very often.”
After falling 12 points early in the second half, the Badgers found their shooting touch behind guard Chucky Hepburn and fought back for a 35-34 lead with 11 minutes 32 seconds left.
UW then caved at both ends of the field as Matthew Mayer scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in a 22-4 run at Illinois.
The Illini had a 56-39 lead with 4:03 to go and UW’s hopes of victory were all but gone.
The loss left the Badgers (12-8, 4-6 Big Ten) in the middle of their second three-game losing streak of the season and they’ve won only once in their last seven games.
Illinois (15-6, 6-4) beat UW for the second time this season and has won six of its last seven games. The turnaround began with a 79-69 victory over UW in Champaign.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of our band,” Underwood said. “They had a 15-2 run and to withstand that and then make our own run, it shows our guys are growing.”
Mayer, who was relatively discreet (10 points, 6 rebounds) during the teams’ first meeting, scored 18 of his points after halftime. Guarded frequently by UW freshman Connor Essegian, Mayer made 5 of 11 three-pointers and 9 of 18 total shots. He hit 2 three-pointers in the deciding 22-4 run.
“He’s playing great basketball right now,” senior forward Tyler Wahl said of Mayer. “He attacks attacking glass. He can score from pretty much anywhere. He can go down. We didn’t have an answer for him today.”
Klesmit sparked UW early and finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
Following:Max Klesmit’s absence from the last two Big Ten games has been felt, but Wisconsin is expected to find him against Illinois
Last Badgers game:Wisconsin defense struggles mightily in loss to Maryland
Hepburn, who made just 4 of 16 shots in the loss to Northwestern and took just three shots in the loss to Maryland, missed his first six field goal attempts on Saturday. His first mark was a three-pointer with 14:39 left to help UW within six points.
He finished with 15 points and five rebounds and was much more aggressive than he had been in the loss to Maryland.
Wahl, who did not play in Illinois’ opener, went to the bench for the final period 15:07 of the first half after committing his second foul. He picked up his third and fourth fouls within three seconds early in the second period and finished with nine points and four rebounds in 19 minutes.
The only other game this season in which he played fewer minutes was against Minnesota, when he played 8:50 before suffering an ankle injury that kept him out of the game. roster for three games.
“It’s on me,” he said. “I have to be better. That’s the main thing.”
Steven Crowl, author of a double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds) during the first meeting of the teams, collected only two points in the first half on Saturday. He picked up his fourth foul with 9:49 left in the game and finished with seven points and seven rebounds.
The game was tied at 37 when Crowl committed his fourth foul. When he returned with 6:58 to play, UW trailed, 46-37.
“I thought when Steve got his fourth, it really changed the tone of the game,” Gard said. “We find ourselves in better positions where you’re not sitting… No team can bench your best players like that.”
Essegian, after a 19-point performance at Maryland, suffered in a freshman game at both ends of the court. He missed all five field goal attempts, struggled on defense and finished with three points.
“I thought we looked really good,” Gard said. “Connor, we ran a few things for him. It was one of those days. He didn’t have a lot when he wasn’t able to get the ball in the basket. Today was a fight for him.”
The Badgers struggled to score early as Illinois threw bricks and missed an opportunity to take a halftime lead. They shot 54.2 percent after halftime but scored just 14 points in the game’s final 10:11 and allowed the Illini to score 22 points on 10 possessions in the deciding 18-point swing.
“I feel like at the start of the year we were doing a good job of limiting the points the other team would have,” Wahl said. “And we would respond. At the moment we haven’t been able to stop in defense. They continue their runs and we call a timeout and nothing (changes). They just keep doing what they want to do.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin falls to Illinois, 61-51, third straight loss for Badgers