MILWAUKEE — Keaton Nankivil looked around the locker room inside the Bradley Center Saturday afternoon and felt satisfaction when he didn't see a look of relief on any of the faces of his teammates.
The University of Wisconsin men's basketball team had just held on to defeat Marquette 69-64 despite a shaky finish that nearly let the Golden Eagles off the hook. But it didn't matter to any of the Badgers that they struggled at times down the stretch.
What mattered is that they earned a tough non-conference road win against their bitter in-state rival and got a big jolt of confidence from it as they prepare for the Big Ten Conference season.
"The feeling our guys have is that it's time to get the ball rolling, we're coming up on the Big Ten," Nankivil said. "So any feeling of relief could lead to a possible lull and we're not trying to do that. We're using this as a springboard to keep it going."
It was a solid win in many ways for the Badgers (8-2), who got 21 points from junior guard Jordan Taylor, 17 points and six rebounds from senior forward Jon Leuer and 12 points from Nankivil.
The Golden Eagles (7-3) got 15 points from senior swingman Jimmy Butler.
The biggest storyline was how the Badgers took advantage of seams in the Golden Eagles' pressure defense and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and turned them into a 21-9 edge in second-chance points.
It was a complete reversal from the previous three games in this series that saw Marquette win two of them partly because of a sizable advantage in both of those categories.
"Too many back-breaking second-chance points for them," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.
Another big storyline was the key contributions from a number of Badgers such as sophomore forward Jared Berggren's eight points, sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz's eight rebounds and freshman guard Josh Gasser's defense.
"In order to win games like this on the road against good teams, you have to have that kind of effort from other players," UW coach Bo Ryan said.
The Badgers grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and scored 16 second-chance points during a second-half surge that saw them lead 63-53 following a dunk by Berggren after he rebounded his own missed jumper with 3 minutes, 10 seconds left.
But three straight turnovers followed by three trips to the free throw line that netted only one point for the Badgers let Marquette back in it. A 3-pointer by Butler and a putback by forward Jae Crowder cut the Badgers' lead to 66-64 with 9.2 seconds left.
Ryan said the Badgers were never frazzled, partly because they had learned so much while losing 68-65 at UNLV on Nov. 20. The Golden Eagles' home-court advantage and their smaller, quicker team created a similar scenario to the UNLV game that saw the Badgers lose a late lead because of turnovers and missed shots over the final 1:15.
"That's how we walk away with this one today," Ryan said.
Taylor, who had just made two free throws with 19.1 seconds left, went to the line again with 7.8 seconds left and missed his second attempt to make it 67-64. But Marquette never got a chance to attempt a tying shot because Gasser forced a turnover in front of the Marquette bench with 2.6 seconds left when he split senior point guard Dwight Buycks and sophomore Darius Johnson-Odom as they attempted a dribble handoff.
Gasser knew he could be aggressive because if he was called for a foul, the Golden Eagles still couldn't tie the lead at the free throw line.
"I just jumped it, got a hand on the ball, maybe bumped them a little bit but nothing big and it hit right off his leg and we got the ball," the freshman from Port Washington said. "If they had called a foul, so be it. It was a big play for us."
Huge play, actually.
"It's going to be a good resume win for us," Leuer said. "Anyway you've got to do it, you've got to get it done."