In every way, Wisconsin brought all they had to the Sweet 16.
But against a Syracuse Orange team that had battled its way past a series of distractions all season long, the Badgers just didn’t have enough. With four players scoring in double figures, top-seeded Syracuse (34-2) rode a balanced offensive attack to a 64-63 victory over No. 4 seeded Wisconsin (26-10) in the East Regional semifinals.
Wisconsin’s senior point guard Jordan Taylor had the ball in his hands in the game’s final seconds, but the tough three-point jumper fell short and the Badgers were unable to corral the rebound in time for another shot.
“We were just trying to get an open shot and try and make them rotate in the zone,” Taylor said of Wisconsin’s final play. “We did a little bit, but they did a good job of recovering to open guys there.”
The Badgers led by as many as six points and overcame multiple Orange runs to take a 59-58 lead with 6:37 remaining. However, Syracuse was able to continue scoring while Wisconsin was held scoreless for the next two minutes. The Badgers did draw within one point with 32 seconds remaining, but were unable to score again.
The win for Syracuse marks the first time the school has made it past the Sweet 16 since it won a national championship in 2003. The loss ends Wisconsin’s season in the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year, while the school’s first Elite Eight berth since 2005 remains out of reach.
“Any time a team gets better as the year goes on, I think that’s a good sign,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “Jordan Taylor was a big reason for that; Rob Wilson, as a senior, also as a leader. These guys did a great job.
“We played well enough to have this one on our side, it just didn’t work out that way.”
Ultimately, Wisconsin just couldn’t manufacture enough offense to compensate for Syracuse’s potent attack, led by sophomore forward C.J. Fair with a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds. Senior guard Scoop Jardine added 14 points and four assists, while sophomore guard Dion Waiters added 13 points and junior guard Brandon Triche scored 11.
For the Badgers, Taylor and junior forward/center Jared Berggren each had 17 points. No other Wisconsin player scored in double digits, though sophomore guard Ben Brust added nine points on 3-for-6 shooting from three-point range. Junior forward Ryan Evans and sophomore guard Josh Gasser each added seven points, while Wilson, also playing in his final game as a Badger, scored four points and pulled down four rebounds.
Aside from their inability to manufacture a solid shot attempt on the final possession trailing by just one point, the Badgers also were unable to get Berggren into the game in the final seconds. Ryan said after the game that if Syracuse’s lead had extended to three points, Berggren would have came in for Mike Bruesewitz.
“It was a one-point game, and who’s scrappier than Mike Bruesewitz and who got their hand on the ball at the end?” Ryan said, referring to Bruesewitz’ attempt to corral the rebound after Taylor’s last second heave. “It worked out okay. We were fine with it. There wasn’t any panic.”
Wisconsin began the game with about as strong a start as it could’ve expected against Syracuse’s renowned 2-3 zone defense. The Badgers led 17-11 at the 10:40 mark, their biggest lead of the game. However, the Orange soon mounted a comeback, as an 11-0 run that began at 5:56 and continued through the 2:30 mark put Syracuse ahead 30-23. At halftime, Syracuse led 33-27 despite Taylor corralling a loose ball in the half's final moments and finishing with a layup on the other end.
The Badgers began the second half with a three-pointer by Taylor and a layup by Berggren to draw within 33-32. However, they were unable to tie the game until the 15:46 mark, when a three-pointer by Wilson evened the score at 40-40.
Syracuse quickly built an 8-1 run thanks to three baskets from Fair and a layup from Jardine, building a 48-41 lead with 12:42 remaining.
Wisconsin tied the game again at the 8:36 mark, this time at 53-53, and again at 56-56 with 7:35 remaining. But again, the Orange proved too powerful to hold down.
“Syracuse just has too many athletes that can do so many things, and it’s hard to prepare for that on the defensive end,” Ryan said. “You think you’re getting things done, but you’re a step behind. So we did the best we could, and I thought we played great defense.”
The Badgers final possession began after Joseph missed a free throw with 19 seconds remaining. Trailing by one point, Taylor brought the ball up court despite Wisconsin still having one timeout remaining. Ryan said after the game that he wanted to leave one timeout open for the inbounds play, and then for Taylor if he wanted to call one. However, his jumper bounced off the rim with three seconds remaining and Gasser grabbed the loose ball, but his miracle didn’t come close.
“[The game] was on the line, and I felt like I got my legs into it,” Taylor said of his final shot. “I knew it was a deep three, but it felt good, and then to see it kind of come up short was kind of heartbreaking.”