MILWAUKEE — Sophomore point guard Traevon Jackson stood in a hallway of the Bradley Center Saturday night, his voice barely above a whisper as he took the blame for another disappointing performance by the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
Jackson and the Badgers never recovered from an awful first half and dropped a 60-50 decision to in-state rival Marquette in a non-conference game played before a raucous crowd of 18,588.
It didn’t help matters for UW that Jackson’s counterpart, Marquette’s Junior Cadougan, played with poise and came up with one clutch play after another in the second half. The senior scored
14 of his game-high 18 points in the second half to help the Golden Eagles (6-2) beat the Badgers for the second consecutive year.
Junior guard Vander Blue, a former Madison Memorial athlete, scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half to help the Golden Eagles build a 34-20 halftime lead.
Senior forwards Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans scored nine points apiece to lead UW (6-4), which played without senior forward Mike Bruesewitz. Freshman forward Sam Dekker made his first career start in place of Bruesewitz, who suffered a concussion — the medical staff initially thought it was a case of whiplash — after a collision with a teammate during Thursday’s practice.
All Bruesewitz could do was watch and encourage his teammates from the bench as the Badgers shot 32.7 percent overall from the field, 28.0 percent from 3-point range and 39.1 percent from the free throw line to fall to 1-3 away from home this season.
UW never led and trailed for all but 26 seconds of the game. The Badgers were outscored 36-10 in the paint and gave up 17 fast-break points, an outrageously high number for a program that prides itself on being sound in transition defense.
Most of that damage came in the first half, one of the worst 20 minutes of basketball by the Badgers in recent memory.
“Pretty poor,” Berggren said. “It’s about as bad as we can play, really.”
Jackson pointed the finger at himself. The Badgers had 10 turnovers in the first half, and he had three of them. That sloppy play helped Marquette produce 13 fast-break points and build a 22-8 cushion in points in the paint.
The Badgers averaged an abysmal 0.57 points per possession in the half and allowed way too much dribble penetration and unchallenged post feeds on the other end.
Jackson was asked what hurt the Badgers most in the opening 20 minutes.
“Me,” he said. “I’ve got to get better. The only way to do that is just to keep staying positive, keep your head up. But it starts with me.”
Jackson played much better in the second half and, not coincidentally, so did the Badgers.
Berggren capped off a 10-0 run with a 3-pointer to help UW pull within 41-38 with 10 minutes, 27 seconds left in the game. The Badgers had a chance to pull closer on the next possession, but Evans missed a pair of free throws.
Evans finished 1 of 9 from the line to fall to 31.8 percent on the season. He banked in his only made free throw Saturday and, though he denied it afterward, it appeared he tried to bank in his next two attempts that would have helped UW cut into Marquette’s three-point lead.
The Badgers were still within 48-44 after Evans hit a 16-foot jumper with 7:09 left, but he missed two free throws the next time down the floor to cost UW a chance to get closer.
Evans said last week his struggles at the free throw line were the least of his concern. He was asked Saturday if he still feels that way.
“I wouldn’t say they’re the least of my concern now,” Evans said. “I think it cost us the game tonight. But I’m going to get back to it, work a little bit harder at it and change things around.”
Evans’ second set of misses started a stretch of six consecutive empty possessions for UW. Racine native Jamil Wilson scored on a putback to extend Marquette’s lead to 50-44 with 5:43 left, and Cadougan’s three-point play with 2:43 left gave the Golden Eagles a nine-point cushion.
That ended a stretch where Cadougan scored 10 of Marquette’s 12 points, a haul that included two three-point plays, a pull-up jumper late in the shot clock and a difficult floater.
UW pulled to within 55-50 on a 3-pointer by freshman George Marshall with 40.5 seconds left, but Cadougan answered with yet another three-point play after a long inbounds pass.
“I thought we were trying to get some charges,” UW coach Bo Ryan said. “Usually you can discourage people if you get a charge or two, (but) we didn’t. … Those were very tough shots where he floated the ball in the air. I mean, those weren’t layups.”
One sequence summed up the disparity at the point guard position between the teams. After Cadougan’s second three-point play gave Marquette a 53-44 lead, Jackson was stripped at the other end by Blue to wipe out an opportunity for the Badgers to draw closer.
It was that kind of night for Jackson, especially in those gruesome opening 20 minutes.
“We just didn’t take care of the ball,” Jackson said. “It started with me. We just got rattled by the pressure a little bit, and they took advantage of it.”