New York, NY – Wisconsin point guard Bronson Koenig was not the first player in college basketball history to struggle in his first game on the big stage of Madison Square Garden when he shot 2-for-12 on Friday night as his Badgers fell to Georgetown, 71-61.
But in the consolation game of the 2K Classic on Sunday afternoon, Koenig showed why he was named to the Wooden Award preseason Top 50 list by scoring the winning basket as Wisconsin defeated VCU, 74-73, to claim the consolation championship.
After VCU’s Melvin Johnson knocked down a free throw line jump shot to give the Rams a 73-72 lead with 30 seconds left in the game, Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan called a time out. The veteran coach isolated his two best players–Koenig and 6-8 forward Nigel Hayes–on the left side of the court to play a two-man game.
With VCU denying Hayes the ball on the low block, Koenig took matters into his own hands driving the ball to the middle of the free throw line, spinning with his right hand and continuing his dribble to the rim with his left hand. Recognizing secondary defensive help coming to challenge his shot at the rim, Koenig went high off glass with a left-handed lay-up that beat VCU center Mo Alie-Cox and settled into the net to give Wisconsin a 74-73 lead. Johnson’s long distance attempt at a three-point shot for the win fell short as time expired, and Wisconsin was heading home with a split in New York and a 3-2 record on the young season.
“I saw he (a defender) was trying to take away Nigel, and that pass would’ve been pretty hard to make,” said Koenig of a possible dump down pass from the wing to a posting Hayes. “He overplayed me. He cut me off and I just spun back.”
Koenig was solid for Wisconsin all game. Determined to atone for his poor shooting game against Georgetown, Koenig nailed his first shot of the game, a three-pointer from the wing, and finished with a team-leading 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting including making 2-of-5 shots from distance.
“Everyone has those kind of games,” said Koenig of his performance against Georgetown. “I allowed them (the Hoyas) to rush me the other night. I slowed myself down a little bit tonight.”
Wisconsin won despite a quiet game from Hayes, a fellow Wooden Award preseason top 50 nominee. Hayes found his way to only five shots, making only two and going an uncharacteristic five for ten from the free throw line.
Wisconsin center Ethan Happ, a redshirt freshman taking the line-up spot of 2014-15 Big Ten Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky, posted his second straight double-double in scoring 12 points and collecting ten rebounds.
In addition to instincts to rebound, the 6-9 Happ has surprising ballhandling skills not normally associated with a young player playing the center position. Happ has the ability to rake and take a rebound up court with the dribble and also to create for himself in the half court by driving the ball from the wing to score at the rim.
Another Badger starter leaving his imprint on the game was two-guard Zak Showalter. The 6-2 redshirt junior with a high hoops IQ, showed off his excellent court vision in handing out a team-high six assists. Although no official statistics are kept for the hockey pass–the pass leading to the assist–Showalter collected a number of those passes as well. He converted all six of his free throws in scoring ten points and his three steals led the Badgers.
Looking over the stat sheet in finishing his remarks to the media, Ryan brought up Showalter’s name and said, “Is he playing guys, or what? I thought he played a great game. Guarding D’Vantes Smith-Rivera the first game the job he did on (Melvin) Johnson today, wow.”
As he did against Duke on Friday night with , Johnson led VCU in scoring with 21 against the Badgers. His clutch free throw line jumper gave VCU the lead until Koenig’s heroics won the game for Wisconsin.
Johnson has deep range to his jump shot and showed it off making a three-pointer from behind the NBA arc as time expired in the first half to increase VCU’s lead to 43-37 at halftime. Needing just a sliver of space to release his jumper, Johnson shook his defender at the top of the key earlier in the first half and made a contested three-pointer. In the two games at Madison Square Garden, Johnson converted on 6-of-10 shots from distance, many of them well behind the college arc.
As the game continued into the second half, Johnson found the ball in his hands more often in the open court and showed a tight handle with the dribble. He dribbled more often into his shot against Wisconsin than he did in the Duke game and also found time to assist on three baskets.
“It was a tough ending to a tough game,” said a dejected VCU Coach Will Wade. “We missed the front end of some one-and-ones and we didn’t squeeze a couple of rebounds.
“I thought they were trying to go to Hayes at the end. Koenig drove us and he went too deep and was able to wiggle it in there.”
Asked if the two 2K Classic losses to Duke and Wisconsin might look good on a the VCU resume come NCAA tournament selection time, Wade did not want to hear of it. “We’ve got to win games,” the 32-year old coach said. “Losses don’t help us. We’ve got to win games. We’ll worry about March in March.”
VCU will look to improve on its 2-2 record when it returns home to face American on November 25. Wisconsin’s next game is also on November 25, a home encounter with Prairie View.
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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