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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Steven Crowl has career night in leading Wisconsin past Bradley in an NIT first round game

By Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,

2023-03-14

MADISON – One of the many issues Wisconsin coach Greg Gard addressed after his team lost to Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament was the play of Steven Crowl.

Gard reiterated he wanted to see the junior look to score more often, particularly in the lane.

Crowl was aggressive from the opening minute Tuesday night at the Kohl Center, scored from inside and outside and put together arguably his best overall performance at UW.

He hit 12 of 16 shots overall en route to scoring a college-high 36 points to help the Badgers dominate Bradley, 81-62, in the opening round of the NIT.

BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 81, Wisconsin 62

"I tell him all the time," Gard said, "I’ve seen all the bigs come through here in the last 20 years. I think he could be right there with those guys. Getting him to believe that has been the biggest thing. Tonight is a big step. He played how I envisioned he could play."

The Badgers (18-14) advance to the second round to host third-seeded Liberty (27-8) on Sunday. Tip time is to be announced.

Liberty advanced with a 62-57 victory over Villanova on Tuesday.

Crowl, who had just eight points and one rebound in 24 minutes in the loss to the Buckeyes, scored from just about every spot on the floor against Bradley.

He hit 3 of 4 three-pointers and 6 of 9 shots overall in the opening half to help UW to a 40-35 lead and finished 5 of 7 from three-point range. He entered the night just 22 of 78 on three-point tries (28.2%).

Crowl also came in shooting just 60.3% from the free-throw line. He hit 7 of 7 attempts Tuesday and grabbed a team-best nine rebounds.

He tied the program mark for most points in any postseason game. Michael Finely set the mark in UW's 109-96 loss to Missouri in the second round of the 1994 NCAA Tournament.

"Coach has been on me all year about being (more) aggressive," Crowl said. "I think I can do a better job at that."

Crowl, who came in averaging 11.5 points per game, had three baskets in the lane in the first 4 minutes 15 seconds. He hit his first two free throws, with 14:55 left in the half, and kept shooting.

"I think it is also getting to the line and seeing a couple of those go in," he said of his confidence Tuesday night. "I’ve been struggling from three and from the line this year so it was nice to see a couple of those both go down.

"Once you get going early, see a couple buckets go in, see a couple free throws go in you start feeling good. Then you see a couple threes go in and you keep shooting them until you miss."

Max Klesmit added 16 points, including 13 in the second half when he hit 5 of 7 shots. He added three rebounds, three steals and two assists.

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Guards Connor Essegian and Chucky Hepburn, who were a combined 2 of 13 from three-point range and 6 of 22 overall in UW’s loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament, struggled again Tuesday night.

Essegian was 1 of 6 from three-point range and 2 of 11 overall. However, he hit 9 of 9 free throws and finished with 14 points and five rebounds.

Hepburn was 1 of 6 from three-point range and 1 of 7 overall. He finished with just three points but added five assists and three rebounds.

Tyler Wahl (11.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) was limited to eight minutes in the opening half because of a bruised knee and foul trouble. He finished with three points, two rebounds and two assists.

Carter Gilmore (three points, six rebounds, two assists), Jordan Davis (four points, two rebounds) and Kamari McGee (two points, three rebounds) all contributed.

The Badgers hit just 4 of 22 three-pointers in the loss to the Buckeyes but hit 8 of 25 attempts Tuesday and finished 23 of 28 from the free-throw line (82.1%). That was well above their season mark of 67.1%.

"Proud of our guys to be in this position and to approach this the right way and prepare the right way," Gard said of playing in the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament. "I think you saw with how they played and came out tonight. That’s a credit to them."

Bradley, coached by former Marquette standout Brian Wardle, finished the season 25-10. The Braves came in shooting 35.9% from three-point range but shot just 21.7% against UW (5 of 23).

"We didn’t shoot the ball well," Wardle said. "We just could not get it going today. Some of that was Wisconsin’s defense. Some of it was us."

Junior forward Rienk Mast (13.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) scored 14 points and Zek Montgomery added 12 for Bradley. Darius Hannah, a junior from Milwaukee Academy of Science, added six points, two rebounds and two assists before fouling out with 6:44 remaining.

Wardle didn't hesitate in saluting Crowl.

"His shot looks good coming of his hand," Wardle said. "You know he can shoot but he hasn’t shot it well this year. He has gotten open looks in the film I’ve watched. Wide open. I didn’t want him wide open. We were trying to fly at him but it didn’t matter today.

"That is what you need in the post season. You need guys to step up and make big plays and big shots and maybe do things they haven’t done in the regular season. He did that today."

More: What to know about Bradley, Wisconsin's first opponent in the NIT

Wisconsin vs. Bradley odds: Here's the spread, money line and point total for the NIT game

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Steven Crowl has career night in leading Wisconsin past Bradley in an NIT first round game

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