In what is likely to go down as one of the ugliest games in NCAA tournament history, the Wisconsin Badgers found a way to grind out a 47-43 victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers in a 1st round matchup.
After scoring all of 16 points in the first half, the Badgers went back to the drawing board and found a formula that worked. That formula was a whole lot of Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes down low, and a whole lot of physicality to draw fouls on the Panthers.
Happ would score 12 of his game high 15 points in the second half, while also grabbing eight rebounds. Hayes took advantage of being able to get to the line, scoring six of his 12 points from the charity stripe after going just 3 of 17 from the field.
Fellow junior Vitto Brown also showed up big, pouring in 11 points and going a huge 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. Two of those gave Wisconsin crucial leads in the final 5 minutes, 16 seconds of the second half.
Wisconsin managed to hold most of a potent Panthers offense in check on the other end of the court, as only Jamel Artis (13) would reach double figures in the losing effort.
All of it somehow added up to UW coach Greg Gard earning his first NCAA tournament victory.
Most would like to erase the first half from their collective memories, as the Badgers and Panthers put on one of the worst displays of basketball in the NCAA tournament.
Pitt ran out to a 10-3 lead early on, but couldnâ€™t stay hot and the Badgers were simply dreadful all half long offensively. UW was just 6-25 from the field for the half, with starters Vitto Brown, Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes contributing just three points each.
Meanwhile, Zak Showalter led all Badgers with just five points in the half.
Defensively, things looked pretty good for the Badgers as they held the Panthers to just 37 percent (10-27) shooting from the field.
UWâ€™s 16 points were the fewest in a 1st half in the NCAA tournament since at least 2000.
Given all of that, it is incredible to think Pitt would have wasted a 12-point lead, but after going up 20-10 with 4:27 to play in the first half thatâ€™s exactly what transpired.
Over the course of the final 4:27 and the start of the second half, Wisconsin was able to dig in and get its first lead thanks to a 19-6 run. UW went up 30-29 with 12:52 to play, but its lead would be brief.
Pittâ€™s Michael Young answered back with a jumper just 20 seconds later, and it appeared the Panthers were about to run away again as back-to-back makes gave them a 5-point lead at 34-29.
Instead, Wisconsin used a time out to its advantage and went on a 9-2 run of its own. A Vitto Brown triple with 5:16 to play gave them a 38-36 lead. But, it was another short-lived lead as Pitt answered back just 12 seconds later with a triple from Artis.
Brown would come up huge again, making a second triple late in the contest to put the Badgers up 42-40 with 2:35 to play.
Happ would then come up huge, with a bucket inside while drawing a foul. He missed a chance to make it a 5-point leadwith 1:43 to play thoughÂ as the free throw didnâ€™t go in. Instead, Pitt would come right back and Artis would hit a triple as Bronson Koenig was lost on defense with just 40.3 seconds left in the game.
At 44-43, the Badgers victory looked in jeopardy, especially after Hayes missed a wild effort inside of the final 10 seconds and Pitt leaked out. Instead, UW got back on defense and Pitt senior guardÂ James Robinson ran in to his own man en route to the hoop.
Happ grabbed the rebound and was fouled with just 2.0 seconds left, hitting the first of his free throws and pushing the game to a two-point lead at 45-43. He missed the second, only to see Hayes get fouled on the rebounding effort.
Hayes hit both of his free throws to make it 47-43 with 1.3 seconds left, and Wisconsin moved on after a gritty and ugly effort in the first round.
UW will get the winner of of No. 2 seed Xavier and No. 15 seed Weber State in the second round on Sunday.