STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The last 48 hours weren’t easy for the Wisconsin Badgers, who had all day Sunday plus a long flight into Happy Valley on Monday to stew over their worst home loss in nearly two decades.
Penn State nearly extended that misery, but a potential go-ahead 3-pointer by Tony Carr bounced off the rim with two seconds to play and the Badgers held on for a 64-63 win.
“It’s nice to see a bounce back and look like a Wisconsin team should look,” Badgers coach Greg Gard said.
Khalil Iverson scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half, Nate Reuvers added 11 points and Ethan Happ grabbed 10 rebounds for the Badgers (4-5, 1-1), who snapped a two-game losing streak.
Mike Watkins scored a career-high 22 points for the Nittany Lions (7-3, 1-1) who battled back from a 17-point deficit with 9:40 to play. Carr added 16 points and Shep Garner made 13 for the Nittany Lions who were trying for their first 2-0 start in Big Ten play since 2007.
Penn State played its third game, and first at home, in six days and struggled to shoot the ball for most of the night. The Nittany Lions made just 9 of 26 field goals in the first half, trailed 31-25 at halftime and were just 3-for-21 over the final 1:50 of the first and the first 10 minutes of the second.
The Badgers led 51-36 with 9:40 to play, but Garner drained back-to-back jumpers shortly thereafter to spark a 21-9 run that cut Wisconsin’s lead to 60-57 with 1:53 left.
A pair of Garner free throws with less than a minute to play made it a one-point game before the teams traded free throws over the final 43 seconds.
“I knew we’d have to be really dialed-in and gritty and persevere,” Gard said. “I expected the whole game to be like the last four minutes and fortunately we were able to make enough plays and get enough stops to hang on.”
Carr got his shot after forward Aleem Ford bounced the game’s final free throw off the rim on the other end of the floor. He didn’t get another chance thanks in part to Ford’s hustle to get back on defense.
When Carr’s shot rang off the rim, it took a bounce toward a Penn State player in the corner. Ford grabbed hold of the ball to force a jump ball and prevent the Nittany Lions from getting any kind of chance.
Ford’s late recovery came in the absence of usual post presences Happ and Davison, who both had fouled out.
“He really hustled for that loose ball,” Gard said. “There were a lot of winning plays, so to speak that were made. “We need to make better decisions down the stretch so that it doesn’t get to that point.”
Wisconsin’s bench chipped in 25 points to Penn State’s one.
The Badgers are the only team to have played four ranked opponents so far and were tied or within a basket with two minutes left in three of those games. They looked better than their record inside the Bryce Jordan Center, matching Penn State’s physical play throughout and frustrating Penn State’s shooters all night.
Wisconsin concludes a three-day trip through the Keystone State at Temple (4-2) on Wednesday.