The Northwestern Wildcats were dancing on the sideline before the second half started. They were downright giddy by the end of the game, stomping off the Kohl Center court.
In beating No. 7 Wisconsin 66-59 on Sunday, Northwestern secured an important win for the school’s bid to make its first-ever NCAA Tournament.
Bryant McIntosh scored 25 points and Dererk Pardon added 11 for the defensive-minded Wildcats (19-6, 8-4), who confounded the Big Ten-leading Badgers in part by doubling dominant big man Ethan Happ.
“I’ve talked about it since I’ve been here,” fourth-year coach Chris Collins said. “We’re trying to build a program to emulate what Wisconsin has done.”
Nigel Hayes scored nine of his 13 points in the second half for the Badgers (21-4, 10-2), who had their eight-game winning streak snapped.
“For us, getting everybody’s best shots, knowing that we’re marked is good for us,” coach Greg Gard said. “Nothing that happened this game is surprising, areas we need to improve upon.”
The Badgers didn’t let up despite falling behind by 10 points with 1 minute left, closing to 60-55 in less than 15 seconds after Zak Showalter hit two foul shots.
But McIntosh followed with two free throws with 42 seconds left, and Wisconsin ran out of time. McIntosh finished 10-of-23 from the field.
“I thought I was a gunner, but I never put 23 up in a game. . . . I’ve got nothing to say to him anymore,” Collins, a former Duke guard, joked as he looked in the direction of a smiling McIntosh.
Wisconsin opened the second half with a 10-0 run, looking as if it had solved its offensive woes. Northwestern pulled away for good answering with an 8-0 run capped by Pardon’s dunk with 13:24 left to take a 39-32 lead.
Minus leading scorer Scottie Lindsey because of illness for a third straight game, Northwestern relied on defense to end a two-game skid.
Northwestern: The Wildcats (40.3 percent) and Badgers (40.5 percent) led the Big Ten in field goal defense coming into the game. Wisconsin got off to a decent start from the field before the Wildcats knocked the offense out of rhythm with double-teams on Happ. Northwestern held Wisconsin to just two field goals over the final 10 minutes of the first half to take a 31-22 lead at halftime.
Wisconsin: Happ isn’t known for his jumper. But he made an open 17-footer early in the first half that had Badgers fans going nuts. One of the top big men in the Big Ten, Happ could be even more difficult to guard if the 6-foot-10 forward poses even the slightest threat of being able to hit from outside the post. But double-teams were the bigger problem on Sunday, especially when Happ got the ball deep in the post.
“I just need to continue to get the ball out sooner than later and not let them collapse on me,” Happ said. “We got some good looks off of it. I guess we just need to keep shooting those.”
Just as important for the Wildcats were the double-teams on Happ that forced turnovers and threw the Badgers out of rhythm. Wisconsin did get some decent looks at times, especially early in the second half. Overall, they didn’t hit enough open shots.
Wisconsin similarly had some trouble against double-teams in a 70-69 win in overtime on Thursday at Nebraska.
“We just made a conscious decision. . . . We’ve got to take away the paint,” Collins said.
Bronson Koenig, who is playing with a nagging lower left leg injury, was 1 of 8 for two points in 30 minutes, missing all five of his 3-point attempts. Gard said the injury played a role in part in sitting his best perimeter player during a key stretch in the middle of the second half.
“I think he’s OK mentally . . . I think the injury is a factor,” Gard said. “It was a combination of things that led to my decision, what I was seeing.”
At one point in the middle of the game, Wisconsin went with four guards on the court but without their top three players in Happ, Hayes and Koenig.