A team’s fortunes can change in an instant, sometimes because a critical player is knocked out by an injury.
A team’s season can end before anyone expects it, for myriad reasons.
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard and his players saw their season come to a stunning and bitter end Sunday at Fiserv Forum in the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
As the final seconds of Iowa State’s 54-49 victory ticked off the clock, freshman point guard Chucky Hepburn watched helplessly from the bench with crutches by his side and his injured left foot in a walking boot.
Sophomore Johnny Davis, who likely played his final college game, walked away slowly after hitting just 4 of 16 shots and scoring 17 points.
Box score: Iowa State 54, Wisconsin 49
Davis looked crestfallen as he untucked his jersey top.
“I didn’t want the season to end this way,” Davis said, “and, you know, for right now I just want to cherish these past two years I’ve had at Wisconsin and finish school this semester…
“I just want to stay in the moment for right now.”
Davis, who is projected as a lottery pick in the 2022 NBA draft, finished 0 of 7 from three-point range but he had plenty of company in missing from beyond the arc.
UW entered the day 31.3% from three-point range but finished at a season-low 9.1% (2 of 22).
Brad Davison (12 points) looked off into the distance as the final buzzer sounded, knowing his 161st college game would be his last.
“Just a lot of emotions,” he said when asked to describe his thoughts in seeing his college run over. “I just get overwhelmed with gratitude for the career I’ve got to experience here, but also just for the relationships and the people that I’ve got to do it with.”
The Badgers (25-8) last reached the Sweet 16 in 2017. Iowa State (22-12), which won just two games last season, rebounded under first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2016.
“Our guys have done a great job embracing the work habits that we’ve set in front of them,” said Otzelberger, a Milwaukee native who graduated from St. Thomas More and played at UW-Whitewater. “They started it in June, carried it on in September. We kept talking about it in our huddles over and over, let’s trust our habits and trust each other, and tonight our guys certainly did that.”
The Badgers, already without backup point guard Lorne Bowman (illness), lost Hepburn with 4 minutes 37 left in the first half when the freshman suffered an ugly left-ankle injury.
That forced Gard to have Davison move to point guard and Jahcobi Neath and Jordan Davis try to shadow Iowa State point guard Tyrese Hunter.
“We played 30-some games with him at the helm,” Gard said, “and at this point in time in the season… injuries happen, I understand that… We needed to have him on the court.”
Tyler Wahl, who dominated Colgate in the opening round with 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists, picked up two quick fouls Sunday and played just 6:32 in the opening half. He finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
Steven Crowl picked up two fouls in the opening half and was scoreless in 10 minutes of action. He finished with two points and just one rebound.
“It just got us out of rhythm,” Gard said of the foul trouble. “When you’re trying to find a rhythm, being in foul trouble is not a way.”
In addition to shooting 9.1% from three-point range, UW finished at a season-low 29.8% overall (14 of 47) and had a season-high 17 turnovers. The Badgers came in No. 1 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game at 8.4.
“When you have open shots you’ve got to take them,” Gard said. “But this is an intense moment. Is the pressure there with it? Yea. Pressure is real.
“Defensively that might be the best we have done all year. But offensively, we couldn’t hit water from the boat…
“You can’t go 2 for 22 and turn it over 17 times. That is a petty lethal combination.”
Iowa State also struggled to score, but Minnesota transfer Gabe Kalscheur, who came in averaging 9.1 points and shooting 35.2%, crushed UW’s hopes and momentum all day.
The senior guard hit 5 of 9 shots in the opening half and scored 10 points to help the Cyclones take a 27-26 lead. He finished 10 of 19 shots and finished with 22 points, four rebounds and two steals.
“I was just locked in,” he said. “I never liked Wisconsin, to be honest. I have family from there, but I’m a Minnesota-raised man, so I mean, it gives me a little more edge to play.
“It fueled my fire, for sure.”
Izaiah Brockington, the Cyclones’ leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, hit only 4 of 15 shots and finished with 10 points.
Hunter, who hit 7 of 11 three-pointers and finished with 23 points in the first round against LSU, hit just 1 of 10 shots against UW. However, he contributed six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“Even though his shooting numbers weren’t what we would love for them to be tonight,” Otzelbeger said, “he impacted winning in so many ways.”
While Iowa State’s players and coaches began planning a trip to Chicago for the Sweet 16, Gard and his players to try to accept how a remarkable season that produced a Big Ten regular-season title ended in stunning fashion.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is obviously the last time I’ll have that group in the locker room,” Gard said. “It’s not the actual game itself. It’s the finality of the season and finality of a journey that’s been a long time in the making…
“The finality of that last time and not being able to go to practice tomorrow, next week, those type of things. It’s going to end at some point in time. You just try to hope that you can keep stringing it out for another day.”
That day came Sunday.
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