Taylor, Badgers perform great escape
Four days after overcoming a dreadful offensive performance to rally past Michigan, Wisconsin suffered through another scoring drought against a Penn State team without a Big Ten Conference victory.
The escape act Taylor and his teammates pulled off against the Nittany Lions at the Kohl Center surpassed what occurred Wednesday night against the Wolverines.
Wisconsin trailed by eight points at halftime Sunday, by as many as 16 in the second half and by eight points with two minutes left in regulation before rallying behind Taylor for a surreal, 79-71 overtime victory that again left the Kohl Center crowd of 17,230.
Taylor scored 20 points for Wisconsin, including 18 of the Badgers’ last 24 points. After missing his first five three-pointers and eight field-goal attempts overall, Taylor made three of three three-point attempts and six of six field-goal attempts overall.
He scored Wisconsin’s last eight points in the final 1:47 of regulation to force overtime and added 10 of Wisconsin’s 19 points in the extra period to keep the Badgers within striking distance of first-place Michigan State.
“We have tough young men who will just go toe to toe with you for 40 (minutes),” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said after recording his 100th Big Ten victory. “And go another five if you have to.
“It is the young men that we have that can make something like that happen when it seems like everything is going the other way.”
Wisconsin (16-4, 6-2) moved back to within 1½ games of Michigan State (17-3, 7-0) and solidified its hold on sole possession of second place by moving 1½ games ahead of several teams, including Purdue (16-3, 4-3).
The Badgers, who handed Purdue its first loss of the season on Jan. 9 in Madison, face the Boilermakers at 6 p.m. Thursday in West Lafayette, Ind.
Taylor scored a team-high 23 points in Wisconsin’s 73-64 victory over Purdue earlier this month. On Sunday, the indefatigable sophomore from Bloomington, Minn., led the way for Wisconsin after Penn State’s Andrew Ott dunked to give the Nittany Lions a 60-52 lead with 2:02 left in regulation.
“I thought we relaxed,” said Penn State coach Ed DeChellis, who saw his team’s record fall to 0-7 in the league and 8-11 overall. “And then we come down and let them bang a shot right on us. I think it was a big three.”
Taylor, who entered the game having missed his last 15 field-goal attempts, buried a three-pointer with 1:47 left. After a traveling call on Ott, Taylor hit a three with 1:08 left to cut the deficit to 60-58.
After another traveling call against Ott, this time with 38.7 seconds left, Taylor got into the lane and scored to forge a 60-60 tie with 26.2 seconds left.
“I knew we were down two and just trying to make a play, get in the lane,” said Taylor, who added six assists and zero turnovers in 36 minutes. “Keaton (Nankivil) was knocking down shots ... everybody was. So if they collapsed on me I’d find an open guy.
“But they didn’t ... I was just trying to make something happen.”
When Penn State guard Talor Battle (28 points, eight rebounds, and six assists) missed a three-pointer from the top of the key in the final seconds, with Taylor in his face, Wisconsin had survived to reach overtime.
“I was just trying to force him into a tough jump shot,” said Taylor, who took over guarding Battle after senior guard Trevon Hughes picked up his fourth foul with 1:35 left in regulation. “It looked good when I turned around, so I was just happy it hit back rim.”
When Taylor scored seven of Wisconsin’s first nine points in the extra period, Wisconsin had a 69-62 lead and the Nittany Lions, who shot 60.9 percent in the first half and finished at 51.8 percent, were dead.
Hughes scored 22 points to lead UW, which made only 10 of 33 three-point attempts (30.3 percent) but scored 33 points off turnovers and had 15 assists and only five turnovers.
Nankivil made seven of nine field-goal attempts and added 17 points for UW. Senior guard Jason Bohannon added 13 points to become the 35th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark, with 1,001.
“I think that is the difference between this year’s team and last year’s team,” Taylor said when asked about the comeback. “Last year I know against Purdue, (Robbie) Hummel hit a big shot and on (video) clips there were three of us with our heads down.
“This year I think we just kept battling.”
The result was an escape that would make Houdini proud.