TUCSON, Ariz. -- Despite holding its Big Ten opposition to a mere 10 points in the paint, Belmont men's basketball could not overcome torrid Wisconsin outside shooting in a 72-58 setback in the second round of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.
The Bruins entered the game riding the nation's second-longest winning streak (12) and earned national praise ever since its 87-46 victory over North Florida Mar. 5 in the Atlantic Sun Championship.
The game featured two of the winningest and most respected head coaches in America - Belmont's Rick Byrd and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan. It also provided an interesting contrast, with the Bruins forcing the nation's second-most turnovers, while Wisconsin committed the fewest turnovers per game in the land.
At the end of the day, sometimes basketball simply boils down to making shots. And Wisconsin, apparently still seething from a 33-point performance against Penn State that included 2-for-21 shooting from behind the arc, simply set the McKale Center nets ablaze against strong, active Bruin defense.
Five quick points from junior Mick Hedgepeth (Crossville, Ala.) - which included a game-opening three-pointer - pushed the Bruins to an early 5-3 lead.
Sophomore Kerron Johnson (Huntsville, Ala.) added two free throws to increase the lead to three, 7-4, five minutes in.
Keaton Nankivil capped a 7-0 Badger run to give the four seed an 11-7 lead with 11:06 left in the half.
Though scrappy Belmont defense forced seven Wisconsin first half turnovers, the Bruins were unable to translate those into enough open court opportunities.
But one free throw from junior Drew Hanlen (St. Louis, Mo.) quickly followed by a Hanlen steal and three-pointer tied the score at 15.
Consecutive layins from sophomore Ian Clark (Memphis, Tenn.) and Hedgepeth gave Belmont a 19-17 lead with 6:29 in the half, bringing the sizable Bruin support section to its feet.
One free throw from junior Scott Saunders (New Orleans, La.) increased the lead to three before Mike Bruesewitz sank a wing three-pointer.
As the offensive action picked up late in the half, Saunders replied in kind with a determined conventional three-point play to put the Bruins back up three, 23-20.
But the Badgers continued to score in bunches from behind the arc, with Jordan Taylor sinking a deep-contested trey late in the clock to knot the score at 23.
Johnson would score a gorgeous reverse layin moments later to put Belmont back on top, before consecutive three-pointers from Jon Leuer, Tim Jarmusz and Taylor helped give the Badgers a 34-27 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 40 percent (10-for-25) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 2-for-9 from three-point distance. Hedgepeth scored 11 first half points, but Clark and senior Jordan Campbell (Indianapolis, Ind.) were limited due to foul trouble.
Taylor led Wisconsin with 14 first half points.
Belmont got off to a positive start in the second half as two free throws from Clark and senior Jon House (Guelph, Ont., Canada) trimmed the margin to 36-31.
But once again, the Badgers' All-Big Ten performers had a response. Taylor drilled another deep, contested three-pointer, and Leuer hit a tough mid-range jumper to push the lead back to 41-31.
After Saunders scored on a hook shot, Campbell ripped the nets from three-point range on consecutive assists from Johnson to get the Bruins within 43-39 with 13:36 left.
The second Campbell three-pointer forced a Wisconsin timeout and sent the Bruin fans into a frenzy. Momentum was clearly swinging towards Belmont, before the three-point line - which so often treats the Bruins well - proved again to be the Badgers' best friend.
Following a Badger miss, Jarmusz kept a rebound alive for another Wisconsin possession. Bruesewitz took advantage, sinking a baseline three-pointer to push the margin back to 46-39 with 12:52 left.
After an empty Bruin trip, Taylor drove the lane and found Leuer on a lob feed for a dunk and a nine point edge.
After Hedgepeth halted the run briefly with one free throw, Wisconsin reserve big man Jared Berggren - who was just 5-for-18 from three-point distance on the season and 0-for-7 in Big Ten play - surprisingly made consecutive three-pointers to give the Badgers a 56-40 lead with 8:32 to go.
It was truly deflating for Belmont, as the team played tough, spirited defense all night long, only to have Wisconsin time after time make contested perimeter shots late in the shot clock.
Meanwhile, good Bruin looks - whether inside or outside - simply would not fall.
Leuer took the scoring baton from Taylor in the second half, scoring 17 points after intermission.
Johnson was courageous as always for Belmont, leading the way as Belmont played it right to the final horn. A Johnson three-point play and a Campbell three-pointer got the Bruins within 71-58 with 51 seconds to go.
All told, Belmont shot 37 percent (18-for-49) from the field - including just 6-for-22 from three-point distance. The Bruins forced 13 Wisconsin turnovers, six above the Badgers' season average and most since Nov. 20 at UNLV.
Belmont went 11-for-13 from the free throw line in the second half, coincidentally, as did Wisconsin.
Hedgepeth led Belmont with 17 points, while Johnson had 13 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals.
Campbell had nine points and House four points in their final games in a Bruin uniform.
Leuer led Wisconsin (24-8) with 22 points. Taylor scored 21.
The Badgers went 12-for-22 from three-point distance.
Belmont finishes its finest NCAA era season with a 30-5 record.