We all were bracing for the egg-laying at Iowa City after Wisconsin beat Illinois and Indiana.
But, I would never have guessed that the Badgers would drop another stinker to No. 13 Michigan State by two points at the Kohl Center. Of course, shooting 38.9 percent from the free throw line and 29.6 percent from the floor doesn’t help. Heck, even a cameo from new football coach Gary Andersen, which ignited the home crowd and sent the Badgers on a mini scoring run, wasn’t much help either.
“It’s cost us games before and it obviously cost us one today,” said senior forward Mike Bruesewitz who had a team-high 10 points but was just 4-for-10 from the floor and without an attempt from the free throw line. “We’ve got to get in the gym and just start knocking them down. It’s plain and simple. It can’t be an excuse anymore.”
It never should have been. The Badgers are shooting an abysmal 61 percent from what has been known as the charity stripe. Right now, there isn’t a lot of free-will going on when the ref hands the ball to the Badgers at the free throw line.
Wisconsin is now 8-5 when shooting under 70 percent from the line. If you thought Tuesday’s 38.9 was bad, there was also the 39.1 output at Marquette and 23.1 at Nebraska. Obviously hardly anyone remembers that brutal night in Lincoln because the Badgers somehow got out of there with a win.
This isn’t exactly a simple fix. Because you can’t just order your players to shoot 100 or even 200 free throws in practice and magically expect them to get it when the scoreboard lights go on and the fans file in.
And what’s worse is that assistant coach Gary Close hinted after the game that it’s having an effect on drives to the hoop. He said players are starting to think twice about going to the basket because they don’t want to be fouled and go to the free throw line.
Which is obviously a terrible mental state for a basketball team to be in. Which explains that of the Badgers’ 54 shot attempts, 27 were threes. The Badgers seemed content to pull the trigger on the 20-foot foul-free shot rather than make the extra pass and get an eight-footer with the greater chance of getting fouled.
The fact that the Badgers only lost by two, and had a chance to try and send it into overtime with, of all things, a pair of free throws with 3 seconds left, should underscore how good the defense played.
The Spartans didn’t get a field goal for the final 8:56, which doesn’t mean very much when Wisconsin was held field goal-less for most of the final 7:38, until Ryan Evans sank a desperation three with 17 seconds left to put the Badgers within one.
Wisconsin had the luxury of getting the ball to poised point guard Jordan Tayor last year in the waning minutes. He shot at least 80 percent from the free throw line 21 times, including 11-for-12 vs. Minnesota last February.
The Badgers don’t have that guy right now. But this problem has to be shored up quick. The defense will continue to muzzle opposing offenses but in order to close out three or four-point meat grinder wins, free throws must be made.
To contact Cory Jennerjohn e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter:@CoryJennerjohn