Wisconsin 73, Duke 69

by Rick Dimon | December 3rd, 2009

Wisconsin scored a big victory for both its program and the Big Ten conference on Wednesday night.

The Badgers upset No. 5 Duke 73-69 on the final day of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, all but clinching the Big Ten’s first win in the 11-year history of the event. Wisconsin’s triumph officially evened the 2009 score at 5-5, but Ohio State was already in the process of blowing out Florida State and the Buckeyes finished off the Seminoles minutes later.

While the Badgers were well aware of that fact, senior guard Trevon Hughes made sure to point out another interesting statistic. “Yeah, and the first time Duke lost,” Hughes noted.

He was right. The Blue Devils had been a perfect 10-0 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but it was clear right from the start on Wednesday that they would have a tough time extending their streak to 11. Duke never led the entire night, and the last tie of the game came at 2-2.

Wisconsin jumped out to a 7-2 lead before extending the advantage to 19-9. It was an utterly frustrating game for the Blue Devils, who constantly enjoyed minor spurts to draw close, only to see the Badgers respond with a run of their own.

Duke pulled within 27-24 late in the first half and made charge after charge throughout the second 20 minutes of play, chipping away to deficits of 40-38, 53-52, and 67-65 in between Wisconsin runs.

The Devils even had possession of the ball trailing 67-65 with less than a minute remaining in the game. Junior forward Kyle Singler, however, was forced into an off-balance layup attempt with 29 seconds to play and it collided harmlessly with the backboard.  Wisconsin promptly finished off the proceedings by hitting six of eight free throws down the stretch.

Even though Wisconsin led virtually the entire way, the victory, of course, was far from routine; Singler and freshman guard Andre Dawkins made sure of that. Singler scored 17 of his game-high 28 points before Dawkins caught fire late as the Badger defense put the clamps down on Singler. Dawkins scored all 12 of his points in the second half, going four-for-four from three-point land. Three of his long-range jumpers came in a span of just one minute and 42 seconds, between the 3:36 and 1:54 marks.

But Hughes always had an answer. He poured in a season-high 26 points on 9-for-16 shooting, including 4-for-7 on three-pointers. Hughes hit a trio of trey-balls in the second half, the last of which put Wisconsin ahead 65-54 with 5:03 remaining in the game. From there, the Badgers held on; but just barely.

With the win, Bo Ryan’s ballclub improves to 5-1 on the young season. Its lone loss came at the hands of a typically stellar Gonzaga team, 74-61 in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational. The Badgers ended up with a solid third-place finish in Maui; they defeated Arizona 65-61 in the first round then, after falling to the Zags, dispatched Maryland 78-69 in the third-place game.

While they are not getting a ton of respect quite yet (although this victory over Duke should change that), the Badgers look poised for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. They sneaked in as No. 12 seed last season and upset Florida State 61-59 before falling to Xavier.

Wisconsin probably isn’t deep enough to play like it did against Duke on a nightly basis, but Hughes should have more than enough help in an effort to go dancing one more time. Senior guard Jason Bohannon provides additional back-court leadership and 6’10’’ junior Jon Leuer is off to a flying start, well on his way to his best season as a Badger.

Duke, which is expected to contend with defending NCAA champion North Carolina for the ACC title, suffers its first loss of the year and falls to 6-1. The Blue Devils already boast an extremely impressive win over Connecticut (a convincing 68-59 victory in the Preseason NIT final) and they also handled Arizona State 64-53 in Madison Square Garden.

Although Gerald Henderson, as expected, bolted for the NBA, coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team is still led by a trio of experienced players in Singler, fellow junior Nolan Smith, and senior point guard Jon Scheyer. Scheyer and Dawnkins are lethal from long range and Singler is one of the best forwards in the nation, but Duke—once again—is lacking in the post.

Senior Brian Zoubek, 7’1’’, has never been the answer down low, but the Blue Devils are expecting big things this year out of 6’10’’ sophomore Miles Plumlee. Senior lance Thomas is also still around, so it’s not like Duke can’t bang with big, physical teams. Whether they have enough talent in the paint to be a serious national contender, however, is a much different story. Still, at worst this team has Elite 8 potential.

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