COLLEGE PARK, Md. – It would have been easy for the hottest team in the Big Ten Conference to take a nice, long look at the big picture Saturday night.
But junior forward Vitto Brown and his University of Wisconsin men’s basketball teammates were sticking to their tunnel-vision approach, even after producing their most impressive victory of the season.
Brown helped author a magnificent performance, scoring a career-high 21 points as the Badgers upset No. 2 Maryland 70-57 at the XFINITY Center, ending the Terrapins’ 27-game home winning streak.
A UW resume that was once in shambles now looks worthy of an NCAA tournament bid, barring a late-season collapse. Heck, extending the streak of consecutive top-four finishes in the Big Ten to a remarkable 15 seasons doesn’t even seem out of the question after the Badgers’ seventh consecutive victory.
That’s where Brown, who very well could be the Big Ten Player of the Week when the award is announced Monday, put his foot down.
“We don’t look forward like that,” Brown said. “We focus on whatever is right in front of us. Before this game, we weren’t looking at, ‘If we win this, then this.’ We were just focusing on going in here and making a statement this game, and then we’ll focus on the next game after that.”
How’s this for a statement? The Badgers held the lead for the final 29 minutes, 15 seconds to become the first Big Ten team to win at the XFINITY Center.
Maryland, which beat UW 63-60 at the Kohl Center on Jan. 9 when Melo Trimble made a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds remaining, had won five consecutive games overall. The Terrapins were 15-0 in Big Ten home games since joining the conference in 2014 and could have moved into sole possession of first place with a victory Saturday night.
The Badgers (16-9, 8-4 Big Ten) ruined that plan by playing terrific defense and going 12 of 26 from 3-point range. Junior point guard Bronson Koenig added 16 points for UW, which also got 14 points from junior forward Nigel Hayes and 11 from junior guard Zak Showalter.
“We’ve been saying that we can play with anybody in the country now for a while,” Koenig said. “They beat us on a last-second shot however many weeks ago, but it just shows how much we’ve improved over the past couple weeks.”
Senior guard Rasheed Sulaimon scored a team-high 17 points for Maryland (22-4, 10-3), which couldn’t recover from a major offensive drought in the first half.
It was an all-game slump for Trimble. The sophomore point guard went 1 of 14 from the floor and had five of Maryland’s 12 turnovers.
After UW interim coach Greg Gard finished his postgame interview, he crossed paths with Maryland coach Mark Turgeon in the hallway. Turgeon told Gard he was going to brag about him in his own news conference, and Turgeon did just that.
“I want to give Wisconsin a ton of credit,” Turgeon said. “They were dialed in from the beginning. They were quicker, more physical. Coach Greg Gard has done an unbelievable job with his team. When I shook his hand at their place, I knew they were on the right track and they were terrific tonight.”
UW turned 12 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points – outscoring Maryland by 16 in that category – and finished with a 40-30 advantage in rebounding despite being the smaller team.
“We knew that’d be a big part of the game,” Hayes said. “The coaches stressed we have to hit them in the mouth ... and take it to them.”
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The thing that can’t be measured with any statistic is the level of moxie the Badgers showed in a difficult environment.
Maryland made several charges in the second half as it tried to dig itself out of a 15-point halftime hole, but UW had an an answer every time.
Brown (twice), Hayes, Koenig and Showalter made 3-pointers to restore double-digit leads for the Badgers in the second half.
The closest Maryland got was 45-39 with 10 minutes, 41 seconds remaining. After Showalter made a free throw, Koenig followed with a step-back jumper as the shot clock was winding down and later drained a 3-pointer from the left corner to give UW a 51-41 lead with 8:10 left.
When the Terrapins got within 53-45, Hayes rebounded a missed free throw by redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ to extend a possession that ended with Showalter draining a 3-pointer from the right wing with 4:37 left.
Maryland was within 56-48 when Brown made a 3-pointer from the top of the key to start a 7-0 run that sealed the win for UW.
“It was tough,” Sulaimon said. “They had a great second half, and every time we felt like we were coming back, they made another big shot. That can be discouraging at times.”
The Terrapins were dejected in the first half as well, especially when they went 8:22 without a point and 10:51 without a field goal during a horrid stretch.
The Badgers used a 28-5 blitz – they scored 17 consecutive points during that run – to turn a seven-point deficit into a 35-19 lead.
The Badgers took a 36-21 lead into halftime, but not before a controversial end to the half.
In the closing seconds, Maryland freshman center Diamond Stone slammed Brown’s head into the ground after a scrum for a rebound.
UW freshman forward Charlie Thomas came in to defend his teammate, and players on both teams had to be separated. After a video review by the officials, Thomas was assessed a technical foul and Stone was given a contact technical foul.
Trimble made two free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining, and Koenig made one on the other end to send UW into the locker room with a 15-point lead.
Instead of dwelling on why Stone wasn’t ejected, the Badgers collectively turned the page. Stone played well in the second half and was part of Maryland’s rally, but it was UW which landed the final blow.
“I think if anything it helped us out,” Brown said of the play involving Stone. “It was like a rally for us. We came together and we (said) we’re not going to let them disrespect us.”
The victory helped UW move into sole possession of fifth place in the Big Ten, but the Badgers aren’t concerned about the standings or how they took a major step toward extending an NCAA tournament streak that dates to 1999.
“Our goals are still the same,” Hayes said. “I’ve tried to stress that to the guys. We’re not worried about Mr. Lunardi’s bracketology, whatever he’s got going on. We’re just trying to make sure that we get better each and every game.”