More from BadgerBlitz: Taylor drops 28
MADISON - Jordan Taylor laid the foundation for Wisconsin's hard-fought 69-60 win over Indiana. Jon Leuer cemented it.
Clinging to a six-point lead late in the second half, the senior forward absent-mindedly hurled the ball towards the rim after getting hacked near the free throw line as the shot clock expired. Much to his delight - and his head coach's - Leuer's shot caromed off the backboard and through the net, setting up a clutch three-point play with just a minute left to play.
"I knew the shot clock was winding down," Leuer, who finished with 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting, said. "So I just kind of turned and got pretty lucky. I just threw it up. I went up strong so I got fouled. Luckily it banked and went in."
The play came at the most opportune of times for a Badger squad that had its work cut out the majority of the game. With a hot shooting Indiana squad, compliments of a blistering Jordan Hulls, Wisconsin fell behind by eight points just over four minutes into the affair.
Hulls, who finished with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, went on a personal 10-0 run to give the Hoosiers a quick 14-6 lead. But, like it has so many times before inside the Kohl Center, Wisconsin kept its cool and began methodically chipping away at the IU lead.
"Just stay the course," UW head coach Bo Ryan, following his team's 14th straight home win, said. "They hit some tough jump shots. They're a very good jump shot shooting team. When they're stroking it like that we needed to be a little tighter. We didn't do that.
"We practiced some things that didn't exist so the guys had to come to the bench and take a look at what we were doing with some screening situations."
Apparently that's what happens when a visiting team comes into the Kohl Center and shoots 61 percent from the field in the opening half. Considering opposing teams had averaged a cool 37 percent clip leading into Thursday's game, it's understandable that Ryan had to take his team back to the drawing board.
That new attack started with a more aggressive game plan in the second half.
Having not shot a free throw the entire first half, UW made a concerted effort to draw contact and that worked in its favor as the Badgers attempted 17 free throws, five of which came after a made bucket during the frame.
"I think we were attacking the basket a little more," Leuer said. "We were just trying to finish at the rim instead of just settling for jumpers. I know a couple of times I kind of faded away on some shots. The main thing is just attacking the basket and being aggressive.
Taylor, who scored 17 of his career-best 28 points in the first half, kept his team in contention during the opening frame before UW exposed Indiana's height differential during the final period.
He essentially scored in every way possible.
"I think Jordan Taylor is not only one of the premier guards in the league, I think that's obvious," IU head coach Tom Crean. "I think he's one of the premier guards in the country. That's not just because he played great tonight. He's an outstanding player. He's got all three facets of the offense when it comes to scoring. He can get to the rim with anybody, he has a great shot fake, he's got the mid-range game and he's certainly got the 3-point game.
"They run pick and rolls like they did when Devin Harris was here and I think there's a reason for that."
Taylor, who joined forces with Leuer to score 26 of UW's 30 first half points including a deep three as time was expiring, said his performance was just about hitting open shots.
Maybe that's just his modesty talking.
"They left me open and I felt like I had a pretty good look at it," Taylor, who also dished four assists and collected eight rebounds, said. "I was making shots so I just felt like it was a good look. I was fortunate enough to have it go down. My teammates, it says a lot because they're worried about us spreading the floor. They're so worried about Jon and Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz that it kept me open like that.
"It was just a fun night I guess."
Though he's never beaten Wisconsin as the head coach of Indiana, Crean sees his team slowly starting to turn the corner. A competitive game against one of the better home teams in the nation, in addition to some very tight contests against some other good teams so far this conference season serve as the backdrop.
"I don't think there's any doubt we're getting better," Crean said. "Our guys are very confident. I think that showed. They're very confident in the way that they played and the way they attacked the basket. You can't come to Wisconsin and play teams like this the way they want to play. It's not business as usual when you play that way. You can't beat Wisconsin that way. You can't come and fall prey to that or you have no shot in the game.
"I thought our guys really executed in the way we wanted to attack, the way we wanted to get out and push the ball and the way we wanted to open the court. Us not winning the game was certainly not a lack of want to, will, desire and energy. They just made some big plays."
Smith makes impact:
The stats sheet only says so much when it comes to the way Wquinton Smith played in Thursday's 69-60 win over Indiana. The senior walk-on guard played 12 minutes, scored two points, dished two assists and swiped one steal.
He drove the lane effectively, found open teammates, shot faked and even scored to cap a march towards the rim. It was a career night for a guy that didn't even have a basketball career in front of him when he stepped foot on campus.
"You just got to keep your head in the game every game," Smith said. "Coach Ryan tells us to always be ready and to contribute when you get into the game. That's what I try to do. I know all the other people, even if you're on scout team, you've got to be ready because you don't know who's coming into the game."
Smith's teammates echoed those sentiments.
"Q is great," Taylor said. "He does that to me every day in practice. So to see him come out and do it to the other team it was a big lift for our whole team. I love watching him. He made some huge plays, got to the lane and got their defense jumping around. Those are the things he can do. He was just waiting to get his chance and he got it today and he came through.
"That just shows what type of player and what type of person he is if he can stay ready all the time and come in cold like that and play the way he did."
-Entering Thursday's game, UW led the nation with an 81.2 percent free throw clip. They'll stay at the top of that leader board after hitting 16-of-17 (94.1 percent) free throws against the Hoosiers.
-Ryan deployed his fifth different starting lineup of the season against Indiana. This time Taylor, Josh Gasser, Jarmusz, Leuer and Nankivil took the court.
-UW ran it's winning streak against Indiana to seven straight, including the past 10 inside the Kohl Center.
-UW committed just five turnovers against IU, marking the sixth time this season and third time in Big Ten play that UW has been under the five-turnover mark.
-No opponent UW has played this season has scored 70 or more points.
-Taylor's 28 points set a career high, besting his old tally of 23 that came last season against Purdue. With his performance, Taylor now sits as the Big Ten's leading scorer in conference games. During those six games, Taylor is averaging 22 points per game.
Wquinton Smith on Taylor's progression throughout his career:
"Jordan has really progressed over the past three years. He's getting more confident with his shot and it's getting harder to guard him in practice. I get a little frustrated sometimes, but I know if he's playing against me that way when I'm trying to play my best then I'm helping him better. That's what he's been showing against a lot of Big Ten guards. He's holding his own. To me, he's the best guard in the Big Ten. You can tell his confidence is there and that's what this game is about."