Eron Harris made a career-high seven 3-pointers against Wisconsin on Wednesday, trading three of them blow-for-blow with the Badgers down the stretch like a prizefighter.
But even though he scored a game-high 27 points, Harris and the Mountaineers couldn’t overcome the Badgers, who won the Cancun Challenge 70-63 and, with an 8-0 record, are off to their best start ever under coach Bo Ryan.
Five Wisconsin players scored in double digits, led by Sam Dekker with a career-high 21 points. Ben Brust added 16, Josh Gasser 11 and Frank Kaminsky 10.
But Harris made his presence felt, netting seven of West Virginia’s 11 3-pointers.
“He was hunting it down,” Wisconsin’s Ryan said of Harris. “The way he was shooting, it was like, ‘Holy smokes!’ But I thought we forced him into giving it up a few times, more than maybe he was comfortable with.”
Juwan Staten scored 18 points for West Virginia and had six assists.
It was a tight game in the first half until 11:03, when Gasser hit one of his two 3-pointers and sparked an 18-point run that ended with a slam dunk by Dekker, who had eight rebounds in the half.
Wisconsin got the ball inside to score 10 points in the paint in the first half, setting up shots with eight assists, while West Virginia was content to shoot from the perimeter and was only 6 of 20 from the floor in the first 12 minutes.
Dekker led with eight points in the half and Kaminsky scored seven, including a left-handed bank shot while double-teamed to make the score 25-13. Brust and Gasser each had eight points in the half.
Harris led West Virginia with 14 points in the first half and Juwan Staten had 12. Harris hit 4 of 9 3-pointers to keep the Mountaineers in contention and helped narrow Wisconsin’s lead to six with 42 seconds to play in the half. After draining a 3 to stop the Wisconsin run and scoring the Mountaineers’ first points in just over 5 minutes, Harris clapped his hands in an attempt to rally his team. But Wisconsin kept its lead, and Dekker sank two free throws to give the Badgers a 39-31 halftime lead.
Wisconsin maintained a seven-point lead in the second half, but West Virginia kept chipping away by going 3 for 3 beyond the arc. Remi Dibo made it a four-point game by hitting a 3-pointer at the 10:16 mark.
West Virginia began stepping up its intensity on defense and the game got more physical. The Mountaineers had a chance to make it a two-point game but Kevin Noreen turned the ball over on a bad pass in an alley-oop attempt to Dibo.
West Virginia began getting into foul trouble and put Wisconsin into the double bonus with 6:49 to play. Devon Williams and Kevin Noreen were benched with four fouls each, and Wisconsin took advantage of its free-throw attempts. Traevon Jackson hit two to make it 54-46 and Dekker made two to increase the Wisconsin lead to seven with 6:11 to go.
The Badgers made 16 of 17 free-throw attempts on the night.
West Virginia had its chances but couldn’t capitalize when it counted. They got a needed stop, but turned the ball over on a traveling violation.
Harris made it a four-point game by hitting two free throws with 3:56 to play, but Wisconsin’s Jackson replied with a pass inside to Kaminsky for a dunk to defeat the Mountaineers’ zone and make it 61-55. Then Dekker hit a 3-pointer to make it a nine-point game.
Harris responded with a 3 of his own with 2:25 to play, but Dekker hit his third 3 to give Wisconsin a nine-point lead with under a minute to play.
Harris hit his seventh 3-pointer with 19.7 seconds to play, but Wisconsin’s lead was too much to overcome.
Wisconsin made it to the finals by beating Bowling Green 88-64 on Thursday, Oral Roberts 76-67 on Saturday and Saint Louis 63-57 on Tuesday. West Virginia beat Georgia Southern 101-68 on Thursday, Presbyterian 88-55 on Saturday and Old Dominion 78-60 on Tuesday.