MADISON, Wis. — With some shaky free throw shooting down the stretch, Jon Leuer showed that he still isn’t all the way back from a broken wrist that caused him to miss a big chunk of the Big Ten season.
But his critical blocked shot in the closing seconds of Sunday’s narrow victory over Northwestern shows how important the big man can be for No. 14 Wisconsin.
With the Badgers leading by three, Leuer jumped to block a layup attempt by the Wildcats’ Michael Thompson with 11 seconds remaining. Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes each sank a pair of free throws from there, allowing Wisconsin to escape with a 70-63 win.
“The block was just trying to make up for all those free throws I missed,” Leuer said. “I don’t know what I was thinking there.”
Bohannon scored 17 points to lead the Badgers (20-7, 10-5 Big Ten), who were coming off a loss at Minnesota and had lost two of their last three games coming into Sunday.
John Shurna scored 26 for the Wildcats (17-10, 6-9), who narrowly missed a chance at an impressive road win and have lost three of their last four.
“I think we came together,” Shurna said. “It’s kind of tough to say after a loss we did well. I think it shows the caliber of guys we are. I think we could’ve just laid an egg like how we’ve been doing lately, but I think we stayed strong.”
Trailing by double digits for most of the second half, Northwestern went on an 10-0 run to cut Wisconsin’s lead to 57-54 with 6:42 left as Wisconsin went scoreless for nearly five minutes.
“They were very aggressive,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “That’s the best I’ve seen Northwestern play their halfcourt defense. They were reading well, they were flying, they were very attentive to detail.”
Bohannon eventually broke through with a 3-pointer, but the Badgers suddenly found themselves in a close game.
The Wildcats eventually cut the lead to one on a driving layup by Thompson with 3:06 left.
Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor hit a pair of free throws, and Northwestern was called for a foul on the rebound on the other end. But Leuer missed two free throws, and Shurna hit two on the other end to cut the lead back to one with 2:11 remaining.
A Northwestern foul then sent Leuer back to the line with 1:12 left, and he hit one of two.
Shurna missed a jumper on the other end and Leuer got the rebound. Hughes missed a 3-point try, but Shurna was called for a foul and Tim Jarmusz hit one of two free throws.
Leuer then elevated to block Thompson’s shot, and the Badgers hit their free throws to seal the game.
“That was experience that we get back on the floor in those situations, and that’s why he was out there,” Ryan said. “Plus, even with that tape on his hand, his hands in the post are the best of our bigs.”
Leuer played 22 minutes in his second game back after missing nine games because of a broken wrist, scoring 11 points with four rebounds and three blocks. Leuer had four points in 26 minutes in his return from injury, a loss at Minnesota on Thursday.
Asked how he felt two games into his return, Leuer said it was tough to sit out “five or six months.” He quickly corrected himself, realizing it had only been a matter of weeks, not months — even if it felt that way while he was sitting out.
“It’s an adjustment coming back,” Leuer said. “You kind of have to feel it out. Just the more experience you get and the more games under your belt, I think the easier it becomes.”
Despite struggling to stop Wisconsin’s hot shooting from the field early on, Northwestern stuck close for most of the first half. But the Badgers pulled away with a 12-2 run in the final 4 minutes of the half, including a driving layup and a 3-pointer by Bohannon, and Wisconsin led 43-29 at halftime.
The Badgers shot 15 of 20 from the field in the first half, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
“I like the way we played offensively most of the night and defensively in the second half,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “This is a good team, and I know we had few turnovers (six). But if you want to win on the road, you can’t turn the ball over and you’ve got to make your foul shots, and I know we missed a bunch of them.”
Bohannon has scored 15 points or more in six straight games — including his 30-point effort in a victory over Indiana on Feb. 13.
Shurna had a boot on his left foot after the game, and said he rolled his ankle landing on a teammate’s foot in the second half.
“I’m fine, I just need some ice,” he said. “I’m good.”