MADISON, Wis. — Xavier guard J.P. Macura waited nearly two years for a chance to avenge a tough loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament.
No way that the 15th-ranked Musketeers’ veteran backcourt was going to pass up their shot on Thursday night.
Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers in a decisive run over the final 1:47, and Xavier pulled away late for an 80-70 victory in one of the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Fellow senior Macura added 20 points for the Musketeers (3-0), who won at a tough road venue following two easy home nonconference victories to open the season.
The last time these teams played, Wisconsin sharpshooter Bronson Koenig hit from well beyond the arc with a couple seconds left on the clock for a 66-63 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament over then-second seeded Xavier.
“It was heartbreaking,” Macura said. “To come out here and play team basketball … and get a win, it really feels good.”
Ethan Happ led Wisconsin (2-1) with 21 points and eight assists. But Koenig is gone, as is Nigel Hayes. Happ was a freshman starter on that 2015-16 squad.
Now Happ is the veteran leader surrounded by four new starters on a team in transition.
The savvy Bluiett took control in the closing minutes, scoring 10 of Xavier’s final 14 points. His 3 with 1:47 left bounced high off the rim before falling through the hoop to put Xavier up for good, 69-66.
He pumped his arm energetically in the direction of the Musketeers’ bench as he ran back on defense. Xavier ended the game with a 14-4 run.
“I think the last 2 minutes it was experience versus youth. We were very fortunate,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said.
Bluiett, who was averaging 25.5 points coming into the night, had 21 points in the second half on 6-of-9 shooting after going 0 of 4 in the first half. He hit all 10 of his foul shots on the night.
The Badgers used an 8-1 run capped by Aleem Ford’s 3 with 4:01 left to tie the game at 64.
They had no answer for Bluiett at the end.
“For Nov. 16 to have this type of test for us, I thought it was good,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “We’ll be able to learn a lot tonight.”
Brevin Pritzl added 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 3 of 5 from 3-point territory.
Xavier: Facing the Badgers on the road was a considerably tougher assignment than the blowout victories to open the season over Morehead State and Rider. The Musketeers conducted a virtual layup drill in opening 6 of 7 from the field before Wisconsin’s defense tightened and Xavier had trouble hitting outside shots. That changed in the closing minutes. The game should provide a valuable lesson for a team with a senior-laden backcourt.
Wisconsin: The Badgers went into halftime tied at 34 following a 9-0 run over the final 3:28 of the first half made all the more impressive with Happ on the bench with two fouls. Freshman Brad Davison (12 points) led the charge. He is already proving to be a defensive sparkplug, while redshirt freshman Ford added a 3 during the run. It is important experience for young players on a retooled roster looking to define roles ahead of Big Ten play.
“I feel like a coach, but I’m really proud of these guys to be honest,” said Happ, a junior.
ON THE BOARDS
Xavier held advantages in rebounds (37-28) and second-chance points (12-4), which Mack said was a point of emphasis coming into the game. The athletic Happ can keep up with any interior player, while 6-foot-5 forward Khalil Iverson (eight points, six rebounds) has the athleticism to tussle big men for rebounds.
But Wisconsin needed more help across the court.
“I just thought I needed to see more ‘physicalness’ from guys,” Gard said.
“I don’t really stress over my production levels just because I know that we’re a pretty deep team.” — Bluiett on his teammates making up for his slow first half.
Xavier: Hosts Hampton on Monday.
Wisconsin: Opens play in Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City on Monday against No. 25 Baylor.