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Wisconsin beats Purdue to reach Big Ten final

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CHICAGO — There was no panic in the Wisconsin locker room at halftime even as the top-seeded Badgers trailed 35-30 after a lackluster first half.

“We’re never going to freak out,” said Badgers forward Sam Dekker. “We’re never going to try to get it all back in one play.”

It took only a few plays for Wisconsin to gain the lead and build momentum from there on the way to a 71-51 Big Ten semifinal victory over Purdue at the United Center.

Guard Bronson Koenig led a balanced attack with 19 points as the No. 6 Badgers (30-3) earned a spot in Sunday’s Big Ten championship game against Michigan State.

Forwards Nigel Hayes and Dekker each had 15 points, while forward Frank Kaminsky added 12 as Wisconsin reached the title game for the sixth time.

Center A.J. Hammons scored 10 points to lead fourth-seeded Purdue (21-12).

“We just said, got to get some stops and get into our offense and take good shots, get inside, and we went inside early in the second half,” Dekker said. “I think that’s what propelled us to a win.”

The Badgers came out for the second half recharged as Kaminsky opened with a successful hook shot, kicking off a 14-3 run to a 44-38 lead by the time Purdue called a timeout with 13:49 to play.

The lead steadily grew from there and Dekker pushed it to a game-high 71-51 on a three-point play with 1:39 to play.

“The problem with playing Wisconsin is when you have those bad starts and you allow them to get their head up and they start playing with confidence, it can snowball in a hurry,” Boilermakers coach Matt Painter said.

Wisconsin opened the game with an early lead but Purdue guard Kendall Stephens hit back-to-back 3-pointers in a 26-second span and guard Rapheal Davis added a long-distance 2-point jumper as Purdue moved to a 14-10 lead by the 12:46 mark.

The Boilermakers rode 50 percent shooting (10-for-20) through the first 16 minutes to open a 28-21 lead and scored the last five points of the half for a 35-30 lead at the break.

Purdue was efficient inside and out with 16 points in the paint, shooting 4-for-8 from 3-point range and limiting Kaminsky to four points.

Wisconsin turned the tables in the second half, shooting 16-for-28 (57.1 percent) while Purdue managed only 6-for-25 (24.0 percent).

Kaminsky put an exclamation point on the second half comeback with a rim-shaking jam, opening a 61-46 lead with five minutes to play.

“You’ve got to be ready to guard that kind of speed, that kind of just versatility,” Purdue’s Hammons said. I felt like we did great the first half (on him) but the second half we didn’t stay together as a group, and it just kind of hurt us.

NOTES: Wisconsin is one win shy of matching the school’s single season record for victories, set in 2007-08. … The Badgers’ five fouls in Friday’s 71-60 quarterfinal win over Michigan was the fewest by any team in a conference tournament game in the last 10 years. They committed only seven on Saturday. … Wisconsin is 25-0 when shooting at least 43 percent from the field. After hitting 37 percent in Saturday’s first half, the Badgers improved to 47.3 percent for the game. … The Boilermakers’ 64-59 win over Penn State on Friday was their first Big Ten tournament victory since 2012. … G Raphael Davis was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year this season, as voted by conference coaches. He’s the eighth player honored with the league’s top defensive honor. C A.J. Hammons also was on the league’s all-defensive team, the first time Purdue has had two since 2009-10. … C A.J. Hammons averaged 12.6 points and 7.3 rebounds on the way to a second team all-conference selection. … Boilermakers coach Matt Painter has had 20-plus wins in seven of his 10 seasons.

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