MADISON, Wis. – University at Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley prefers to look at the long-term benefit of a tough road loss against another highly ranked opponent.
For the second time this season, the Bulls held a halftime lead on the road against one of the top teams in the country, but could not sustain their advantage, falling to sixth-ranked Wisconsin, 68-56, on Sunday night at the Kohl Center.
“I knew that this would be great adversity, great experience for our players and a confidence-builder if we played well,” Hurley said. “And, something that we could draw upon in our conference tournament and as the year progresses.”
Buffalo, which earlier lost to top-ranked Kentucky after leading at the half, led Wisconsin 27-26 at the break before the Badgers took control midway through the second half.
The Bulls, who had won three straight, took a 34-32 lead on Shannon Evans’ three-pointer with 17:21 remaining, but Nigel Hayes scored the next seven points to fuel a 14-0 run that put Wisconsin in front, 46-34.
Justin Moss ended the offensive drought with a lay-in at 12:52, but Sam Dekker hit a pair of three-pointers to help the Badgers push the lead to 55-40.
Moss had 14 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Bulls (7-3). Freshman guard Lamonte Bearden, who helped lead Germantown High School to the last two of its three consecutive Wisconsin state championships on the same court, added 13 points.
“I’ve played here four times, five now,” Bearden said. “First time I’ve lost.” It stinks “to have it happen in college. I’d rather for it to happen in high school.”
The Bulls played without junior guard Jarryn Skeete, who rolled his ankle in practice and is day-to-day, Hurley said.
“Not having Jarryn Skeete, our third-leading scorer, I think affected us somewhat,” Hurley said. “He’s a guy that’s made perimeter shots for us this year and averaged 10 a game. So, it dropped us from an eight-man rotation to a seven, so that hurt us somewhat.”
Frank Kaminsky, a 7-foot All-American candidate, had 25 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks for the Badgers (12-1), who have won five straight since a 78-70 loss at home to Duke.
Dekker, a 6-9 junior forward and preseason all-Big Ten selection, added 13 points, all in the second half for the Badgers, who returned all but one key player from the team that lost 74-73 to Kentucky in the semifinals of the Final Four last season.
“I thought we moved the ball better a lot in the second half,” Kaminsky said. “We were moving, cutting, finding easy buckets, getting open shots. Once Sam hit those couple of threes, it kind of opened up pretty much everything else for everyone.”
As they did against Kentucky, the Bulls outplayed their ranked opponent in the first half, limiting the sluggish Badgers to 31.1 percent shooting to take a 27-26 lead.
Xavier Ford banked in a jumper from the lane to put the Bulls up 27-21 with 3:34 left in the half. Buffalo missed its final six shots of the half as the Badgers cut the deficit to one on a layup and three-point play by Duje Dukan.
With the rest of his teammates struggling offensively, Kaminsky kept the Badgers close with 14 first-half points.
After making 11 of 27 shots in the first half for 40.7 percent, the Bulls made just 8 of 27 shots in the second half.