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 Steven Crowl’s play.
Gard reiterated that he wants to see the junior looking to score more often, especially in the hallway.
Crowl was aggressive from the first minute on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center, scored from inside and out and had arguably his best overall performance at UW.
He hit 12 of 16 total shots en route to scoring a college-high 36 points to help the Badgers edge Bradley, 81-62, in the NIT’s first round.
THE SCORE OF THE BOX: Wisconsin 81, Wisconsin 62
“I tell him all the time,” Gard said, “I’ve seen all the big names come through here in the last 20 years. I think he could be there with those guys. was the most important thing Tonight is a big step forward, he played as I imagined.
“That’s what’s good about this tournament. Obviously we understand what our goals were. But it’s another opportunity for us to gain experience, play better and improve. It was a good example of that with him.”
The Badgers (18-14) advance to the second round to host third-seeded Liberty (27-8) on Sunday. Tipping time must be announced.
Liberty advanced with a 62-57 victory over Villanova on Tuesday.
Crowl, who had just eight points and a rebound in 24 minutes in the loss to the Buckeyes, scored just about every point from the field against Bradley.
He made 3 of 4 three-pointers and 6 of 9 total shots in the first half to help UW take a 40-35 lead and finished 5-of-7 three-pointers. He entered the night just 22 of 78 on three-point tries (28.2%).
Crowl also came in shooting just 60.3 percent from the free throw line. He hit 7 of 7 attempts on 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 blaming me all year for being (more) aggressive,” Crowl said. “I think I can do a better job at this.”
Crowl, who averaged 11.5 points per game, had three lane shots 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’s also getting to the line and seeing a few come in,” he said of his confidence on Tuesday night. “I struggled from three and the line this year, so it was nice to see a couple of those two drops.
“Once you start early, see a few buckets come in, see a few free throws, you start to feel good. Then you see a couple threes come in and you keep shooting them until you miss.”
Max Klesmit added 16 points, including 13 in the second half when he made 5 of 7 shots. He added three rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Guards Connor Essegian and Chucky Hepburn, who were combined 2 of 13 three-pointers and 6 of 22 total in UW’s loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament, struggled again on Tuesday night .
Essegian was 1 of 6 from three-point range and 2 of 11 overall. However, he made 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 first half with a knee contusion and a foul issue. 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 made just 4 of 22 three-pointers in the loss to the Buckeyes, but made 8 of 25 attempts on Tuesday and completed 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 in the right way and to prepare in the right way,” Gard said of playing in the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament. “I think you saw how they played and came out tonight. It’s a credit to them.”
Bradley, coached by former Marquette star Brian Wardle, finished the season 25-10. The Braves shot 35.9 percent from three points but only shot 21.7 percent against UW (5 of 23).
“We didn’t shoot the ball well,” Wardle said. “We just couldn’t get him started today. Part of that was the Wisconsin defense. Part of that was us.”
Junior forward Rienk Mast (13.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg) scored 14 points and Zek Montgomery added 12 for Bradley. Milwaukee Academy of Sciences junior Darius Hannah added six points, two rebounds and two assists before committing a foul with 6:44 remaining.
Wardle did not hesitate to greet Crowl.
“His shot looks good coming from his hand,” Wardle said. “You know he can shoot but he hasn’t shot well this year. He had open looks in the movie I watched. Wide open. I didn’t want him to be wide open. We were trying to fly to him but it didn’t matter today.
“That’s what you need in the post-season. You need guys to step up and make big plays and big shots and maybe do things that they didn’t do in the regular season. He did it today.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Steven Crowl pours in 36 points as he leads Badgers past Bradley in NIT
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