Wisconsin has struggled at home this season, but it’s never easy to open a Big Ten season having to play in the Kohl Center.
No. 14 Purdue passed that test Tuesday.
In a very physical, very Big Ten-like opener, the Boilermakers defeated Wisconsin 61-55 behind 24 points and seven rebounds from senior center A.J. Hammons. The Badgers really pushed Purdue in the first half, but ultimately they just ran out of steam as coach Matt Painter’s team established itself inside. Hammons scored 15 of his points in the second half, and 26 of the team’s first 29 points in that half came either in the paint or at the foul line. After that, Dakota Mathias took over and hit two huge 3-pointers in the final 90 seconds to put the game away.
It’s a pretty nice win for Purdue despite Wisconsin’s struggles this season, and it now gets a pair of games at home against Iowa and Michigan. With the way Hammons is playing right now, which is genuinely at an All-American level, the Boilermakers are going to win a lot of games in the league this season. The offense can get a bit iffy from time to time due to the lack of a true point guard, but the defense is so good both on the interior and on the perimeter that Purdue is going to be in just about every game. This might be a bit unfair, but the Boilermakers are the prototypical Big Ten team that’s going to play a lot and win a lot of ugly games due to that skill inside.
As far as Wisconsin goes, it’s fair to say it’s in a tough spot at 8-6 under a new coach in Greg Gard. However, the Badgers only have to look across the bench in this game to see an example of a team that was down and out early only to turn it around. Last season, Purdue was 8-5 heading into Big Ten play and also had a pair of rough losses to Gardner-Webb and North Florida. However, it won 13 of its final 20 games to get a berth to the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has the kind of talent to believe that’s a possibility if Nigel Hayes can continue to play well and Bronson Koenig can turn it around.
However, it’s going to need to happen fast, as the Badgers truly are running out of time to make a run to their 18th straight Big Dance.